Veteran-led group invites community to join them for activities and to build friendships
It takes a deep commitment to community and sense of duty to pledge a chunk of your life to military service, especially when the country is actively in conflict. That desire or need to serve usually doesn’t end when your service does. So what happens when that segment of time ends and you finally get to come home to your family and friends?
“Once I got out, I kind of started to lose that sense of service that initially brought me to the military,” said Kyle Cochrane, a Missoula native who spent five years as an Army combat engineer. This past June, in an effort to fill that void, Kyle and his friend Marshall Taylor, another Missoulian and former Army combat engineer, came together to form a group to help veterans and community members alike approach this reintegration—Team RWB Missoula.
Team RWB—short for Red, White, and Blue—is a national organization seeking to engage service and community members together in physical activity and community service. At each chapter across the country, veterans and civilians get together once a week for walks, hikes, runs, bike rides—or, really, any type of physical activity—periodic community service endeavors. The activities facilitate a natural integration between the two groups, creating a support network for the veterans and helping the community in the process.
“The best way to describe it is that it’s a veteran-led community organization,” said Marshall. “It’s really about being a better community as a whole.” Taylor now serves as the group’s Social Director while Cochrane represents the chapter to the national entity as the Chapter Director. Two other board members, Felipe “Fez” von Sydow and Lou Rana, both veterans as well, focus on community and veteran outreach, respectively.
Unlike other groups, Team RWB functions as an outlet for those coping with post-tramatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other transition struggles rather than a mental health program. Headquarters doesn’t force any process discussion, syllabus, or dictated structure of any type. With the caveat of keeping central the two organizational pillars, community engagement and physical activity, each chapter is free to choose their own activities, schedule, and approach. The national organization keeps things running smoothly by providing promotional materials, loose guidance, and on occasion, a flex budget for activities.
For the Missoula chapter, weekly events are a casual affair. The team regularly accommodates children, dogs, seniors, and people with disabilities, and welcomes participants of all skill levels with all different types of social needs and goals.
“Everyone has their own way,” said Lou, the Veteran Outreach Director. “I’m a quiet person, so sometimes I don’t talk much. But these guys have become my support system, even though we barely knew each other before. Either way, I still get a lot out of spending time with people out in nature.”
In addition to their weekly hikes, the team regularly takes on community service projects. This summer, they spent time cleaning up trash from the Clark Fork River. They also teamed up with Five Valleys Land Trust to clear away brush that can exacerbate fire conditions, and are in the process of planning larger-scale projects as they grow.
“What makes Team RWB special,” said Fez, the team’s Community Engagement Director and social media guru, “is that returning veterans don’t have to play the victim here. We want to continue serving our country and community, and we want to share that passion with everyone else.”
Just a few months after its formation, the group is growing quickly. Team RWB Missoula’s Facebook page has close to 400 members, and though the hikes average around 10-20 participants with more or less a 50-50 split between veterans and non-veterans, the interest indicates potential for much larger numbers moving forward.
“This is not a charity,” Marshall emphasized. “We don’t want money, or really anything other than for people to show up, get to know each other, maybe find some lifelong friends, and help the community. It’s as simple as that.”