Patrick Anderson served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan during his eleven years in the Army. Patrick came from a military family. His father served in Vietnam and his grandfather during WWII. During his final tour overseas in 2013, while working as part of a route clearance team in central Afghanistan, Patrick’s MRAP struck a massive IED. Patrick lost consciousness, sustained a severe concussion and several herniated disks.
When Patrick returned home, like many veterans, he found the reintegration process more difficult than he had expected. Most of his Army buddies were spread across the county. His civilian job as a journeyman electrician suddenly felt less fulfilling than it once had. Then, one day while flipping through Facebook, Patrick came across a page for Team Red, White & Blue (commonly referred to as Team RWB), an organization created by and for Post 9/11 veterans.
Team RWB formed in 2010 as a way to support other veteran organization and create a community for new veterans returning to their communities. It soon became clear that the organization could stand on its own. Veterans and their families would get together to exercise (most often walk or run) as a way to support one another and build community. The new organization aimed to empower veterans by creating local chapters rather than one main centralized organization. They wanted to give the power back to veterans within the community who know the needs of the community best. At a local level, chapters could focus on the needs in their hometowns – running clubs across the country, ski trips in Colorado, fishing trips in Minnesota, etc.
By early 2016, team RWB counted more than 90,000 veterans among their ranks, with more than 70 cities represented by local chapters. The mission has solidly shifted from a focus on wounded warriors to a focus on community for all veterans, regardless of their physical status. This shift has been credited with the exponential rise in membership and community support.
Patrick initially attended an informal running event held by his local chapter every Wednesday evening. A dozen or so military veterans, from all branches, met in a local park. They ran or walked depending on their physical abilities. Some members of the group would then go for a drink at a nearby pub. Patrick initially did not join in for a drink. Over time, however, as he felt more comfortable Patrick found the run and the drink that followed helped to replace a small part of the gap left when he lost his military community after leaving active duty.
Modern veteran non-profit organizations are not unrecognizable to those who are familiar with the traditional veterans community organizations like the American Legion and the VFW. At the root of these organizations is the desire for veterans and families to take care of one another. Even when soldiers return to the civilian world they maintain this community with one another – Team Red, White, and Blue aims to strengthen that remaining bond for all the years to come.