Whenever I'm in a conversation with a civilian and they learn that I am a veteran, one of the questions that is inevitably asked is, "Do you miss it?"
I'm never sure how to answer. The inquiry brings such a flurry of conflicting emotions and memories that a simple "yes" or "no" response is impossible. As veterans, we do miss our time in the military, and then again, we don't. We don't wish for the times when we were away from our families for months at a time, missing birthdays and holidays.
There's no yearning to relive the painful moments of stress, terror, and the deaths of our friends. What we seek in our lives as veterans are the trusted relationships, connection and camaraderie that we shared with our fellow comrades and shipmates. That's what we miss the most in our transition to civilian life and it is an essential part of our overall physical, emotional and mental health.
Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB) is where I found a new set of teammates in my life as a veteran. Team RWB is a veteran service non-profit whose mission is to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Through our inclusive and consistent physical fitness activities, we provide the opportunities for meaningful engagement among our 140,000 members in more than 200 communities around the country. Including civilians, family members and community partners in our membership builds an environment for understanding among veterans and civilians through shared activities.
Team RWB's activities focus on the elements of Health, People and Purpose. The "health" emphasis manifests as regular opportunities for members to bond and challenge each other through fitness activities and sports, to improve physical well-being. Our focus on "people" relies on creating supportive relationships that build mutual trust and increase community engagement for the veteran. Team RWB enhances a veteran's sense of "purpose" by engaging them in team and community service-based experiences that they create and lead in their local areas.
We share our stories in conversation with others over a simple cup of coffee; motivate and build each other's confidence through a hard workout or challenging physical activity; and get our hands dirty together through the productive work of community service projects.
Connecting veterans to their community with an emphasis on civilian inclusion provides the opportunity to strengthen civilian-military ties and foster a greater understanding between veterans and the American public. Our activities build trust among our members, where we earn the chance to learn each other's stories and challenges. These new and strengthened relationships alleviate the risks that result from a lack of connection, such as depression and isolation. Isolation is not something that affects only veterans.
Anyone can feel lonely and out of place, searching for the group where they belong. In today's society, we are seemingly more divided than ever. Coming together in our communities through shared activities and authentic discussions with each other are uniting factors. Everyone has a place in Team RWB. It's where veterans can find their team again, and where civilians, family members and community partners work together to improve their communities and each other. Through our belonging in Team RWB, we veterans don't have to "miss it" anymore. We have found our new shipmates to rely on and healthy activities to participate in to foster a successful transition to civilian life, with a positive focus on our new mission.
Sarah Holzhalb was a Coast Guard officer from 2002-2007, serving both afloat and ashore tours. She now works for Team RWB, a nonprofit that enriches the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Follow her on Twitter @SarahHolzhalb.