Pete Browne is a Marine Staff Sergeant and is currently serving in the Marine Corps Reserve with Combat Logistics Battalion 25 in North Jersey. After four deployments, he transitioned from active duty to the Marine Corps Reserve so that he could live closer to family in the Philadelphia area where he grew up, but he longed for the sense of teamwork and camaraderie that he experienced while on active duty.
"You miss having that common goal and start to feel isolated, like you won't be able to have a connection like that anymore," Browne said.
He started to look for local organizations that work with veterans, and at a free cross-training run with Be Well Philly and Unite Fitness back in August he met Amanda Rondon , the captain of the Philadelphia chapter of Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB).
"Team RWB bridges that gap. It was spectacular," Browne said. "I ended up running [in the cross-training run] next to the widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. It is really powerful the connections you make."
"Amanda, our chapter captain, is a sibling of a military member. It is a true connection between the civilian life and the military life"
Enriching veterans' lives
Team RWB's mission is to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. A national veteran nonprofit organization, its headquarters are in Tampa, Florida.
"Sometimes it helps to get out and run, do yoga, or just hang out with somebody who is there for you. It is important to sustain healthy lifestyles and healthy relationships," Browne explained.
Browne himself lost 15 pounds within two months of joining the organization. "I started to feel better about myself. Being around people who share the same values as you is very effective."
Team RWB participates in many local races, including the Broad Street Run, Rocky Run, Philadelphia Marathon and the Back on My Feet 5 Miler, often running with the American flag.
"It is a very powerful symbol of who we are and what we come from."
Since there are team members all across the city, those in a certain area will get together for weekly runs, hiking, yoga classes, functional fitness, or even volunteering.
Rondon told Philly.com that they organize outings such as rock climbing, bowling events, movie nights, cross-fit events, triathlon training, and even just hanging out and grabbing a pizza.
The team also focuses on preventing suicide among veterans. Browne said, "Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. I know four or five personally. We want people and organizations to look at veterans not as broken or disabled, but as honorable, as serving their country. To see them as assets to the community."
Never leave anyone behind
"I love this team. I see what I saw on active duty. We are always there for each other," Browne said.
Rondon was able to give a perfect example of what Browne meant. When she was recently injured in a Spartan race, her teammates drove out of their way to come and sit with her and make sure she was OK. "To me, it spoke to how close-knit we are, more than just a running club, more like a family."
Rondon became involved with Team RWB because her brother was in the Army and she was looking for a way to say thank you to him and all the men and women who serve. "Oftentimes, it is difficult as a civilian to express our gratitude. Words don't seem enough. While it is always great to write a check or send a care package, being a part of the movement we have as Team RWB is huge."
"At times we almost discount that they are people just like us. They have passion, they have skills, they have knowledge that we might not necessarily have. They are the true leaders of our community. I can't say enough about what I have learned from others in the organization."
"They have a heart to serve others even when they leave the military," she added.
Rondon emphasizes that Team RWB is not just for veterans and their families, but for anyone who wants to be a part of their mission. "We are a team for everyone. There are no prerequisites. Anybody can show up. My friends who are civilians have become really involved. Spending time just being around the veterans is what is important."
Team RWB has been working on sharing its message by partnering with other organizations and businesses. Nike is now sponsoring Team RWB and through them, new members will receive a Team RWB T-shirt in the mail when they sign up.
In the works also is a partnership with the USA Rugby League to honor veterans, spread the word about the organization, and help raise funds for the team's programs through "Tries for Troops." On July 11, the Philadelphia Fight will be recognizing veterans and Team RWB during their match against the Bucks County Sharks at the A. A. Garthwaite Stadium in Conshohocken at 5 p.m. Proceeds from the match will go toward funding programs for Team Red, White & Blue.
To learn more about Team RWB and get involved, click here.