Wearing Red, White, and Blue this July

The value of team for veterans and civilians

Posted Jul 01, 2012

By 8:30 this morning, temperatures were already making respectable headway toward the 90 degrees slated for the day. And instead of simply stepping outside for a walk or a run, I got into my car for a commute to Boston to run with others. The reason: for the first time in two decades, I had joined a team.

The event was a simple training run, a chance to meet other members of Team Red, White, and Blue (Team RWB). Appropriate to the name, I was wearing my new shirt, a bright red t-shirt with the white and blue logo of the team, and with the American flag emblazoned on the right shoulder. It was my most patriotic outfit for decades, and it felt right.

Team RWB’s mission is to enhance the integration of wounded veterans into civilian life. Exercise and team membership are crucial components of the Team RWB approach. As readers of this blog know, exercise is certainly a core healing intervention in its own right. An abundance of research has shown that those who exercise report better moods, less stress, less anger, and a better sense of social connection. More importantly, research has shown that those depressed and anxious individuals who start exercise can achieve benefits equal to that offered by antidepressant medications or therapy.

But it is hard to start exercise, especially from the vantage point of the couch, and this is a second value of Team RWB – team membership. One issue for returning veterans can be the sudden loss of team membership. In a war zone, being a good team member can save your own life as well as the lives of those around you. And the team unit is an all encompassing reality of daily life, with team members inspiring the loyalty that comes with the life and death contingencies of a war zone. Yet, when tours of duty end, and service men and women return to the embrace of their friends and families, a sense of team membership may be lost. And without a clear role for civilian life, many will hunker down, retreating to an isolated bunker on the couch.

Team RWB addresses this isolation through one-on-one interactions with community members directly as well as through participation in athletic events. The goal is to provide direct integrating links back into civilian life. In doing so, it provides benefits to both veterans and the community members who have joined Team RWB. All get the mood and health benefits of exercise, and all get a strengthening of these benefits from the sense of team.

This morning, I felt the value of that team. I exercised when I otherwise might have avoided the heat. And, as I ran in my red, white and blue team shirt, with similarly dressed team members to the left and right of me, I felt the ease of focus that comes from working out with a group. I also had a sense of giving back; the run was a starting point in trying to offer something to the veterans who bore the cost of battle. This July 4th, is Team RWB the team for you?

Copyright Michael Otto

Michael Otto is a Professor of Psychology at Boston University and co-author, with Jasper Smits, of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well Being. Information on Team RWB can be found at http://www.teamrwb.com/.