Ready Front with Team Red, White & Blue
Here at Athletic Brewing, we are honored to have the opportunity to support veterans and their families through our collaboration with Team Red, White, & Blue and Catch-A-Lift. Ready Front IPA was brewed with a team of veterans to give thanks and give back to those who served for our freedoms. To our veterans, we salute you and raise our glasses of Ready Front IPA.
Mike Erwin lives a full and passionate life, running a 32-acre farm with his wife, Genevieve, and five children all under the age of twelve. He spends his mornings taking care of the goats, pigs, chickens, and ducks, mucking out stalls, and tending to all the things that a 32-acre farm needs - which is a lot.
The rest of his day is spent on calls, growing a business, working out on the Concept 2 rowing machine or Jacob’s ladder, dedicated family time, and managing his nonprofit organization, Team Red, White & Blue.
The combination of family, community, health, and dedication to a greater purpose is the recipe that keeps Erwin moving forward. These things are also what he gives to military veterans through Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB).
The Birth of Team RWB
After his third deployment in Afghanistan, Erwin was selected by the army to go back to graduate school to study positive psychology at the University of Michigan. He was in a special forces unit at the time, and the Green Berets in his unit warned him that by going back to college he would stop exercising and would “get soft.”
The military requires that you exercise five days a week, and without that pressure to perform and the desire to impress his peers and superiors, Erwin’s exercise routine waned. That, coupled with the intense guilt he felt for not being deployed with his friends, Erwin recognized how terribly difficult it must be for military veterans to transition back to citizenship.
“I had some real guilt and shame that hung over me,” says Erwin. “I'm here back in the United States and my friends are over 8,000 miles away, living in austere conditions, being shot at, and I'm here in beautiful Michigan living the dream, going to graduate school. So I can imagine how hard it is for fellow veterans who leave the military and who all of a sudden no longer have to stay physically fit.”
Erwin recognized this as an opportunity to help. “There was a sense of, I've got to do something to contribute to the greater good of the military and veteran community. So that's really what led me to start thinking about how I can use physical activity as a vehicle to help my fellow veterans who've served in the military.”
Health, People, and Purpose
Every year, more than 250,000 people transition out of the military. It’s no secret that military veterans face many challenges during this time and many struggle with finding purpose, feelings of isolation, mental health, and physical health.
A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration showed that only 50 percent of veterans in need of mental health treatment actually seek out and receive the needed services. The National Veterans Foundation reports that barriers to mental health services for veterans include long wait times, feelings of shame, fear of being seen as weak, travel difficulties, and the stigma that comes along with mental health problems.
“When they take the uniform off it really goes back to their identity and the clarity of purpose of their life,” Erwin says. “When you're in the military, [purpose] is so pure, it's so direct. There's a lot of clarity on what right looks like. When we leave the military there's not a lot of clarity on what right looks like. It just goes away.”
This is where Team RWB comes in.
“We enrich veterans' lives. But what does that mean? We talk about three big things: Health, people, and purpose. That’s our Northern star,” says Erwin.
Team RWB helps veterans overcome the health challenges and isolation by building a veterans-only community focused around health, wellness, and community. Team Red, White & Blue provides opportunities to connect through regular fitness activities, social gatherings, and community service events, as well as on the Team RWB app. There are chapters and events located all across the country.“Community is really the key word,” says Erwin. “When you can wear that Team Red, White & Blue shirt, and you see someone else wearing it and you immediately feel a sense of, hey, that person's on my team.”
That feeling of community, of belonging, is an essential element in enriching veterans’ lives. The military provides a tight-knit culture and leaving the military can be a bit of a culture shock.
“You're now taking someone who has been conditioned into a team-first environment where you know people are going to have your back, to now all of a sudden, good luck,” Erwin says. “Even if you work for an organization or a company that has a super tight-knit culture, that's few and far between, especially in the world today where we spend less and less time in person more and more time virtual, you're on a different mission than the one in the military.”
Physical Health Impacts Mental Health
It’s no secret that taking care of your body helps you take care of your mind. Exercise helps maintain healthy blood pressure, modulates hormones, boosts mood, and helps reduce anxiety. Some studies are showing that exercise can be just as effective in treating depression and anxiety as medication.
And Erwin is no stranger to using exercise as a means to work through feelings. When he went back to graduate school after his three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he used running as a means to work through his feelings.
“I spent a lot of time running on my own and I would unpack [my feelings],” he says. “Running is a really powerful vehicle to help you work through your struggles and your trouble. We all know indisputably that when you move your body consistently, that it's good for your heart. But, equally as important is the mental side [of running]. It allows you to be calm, to be more focused, to be more relaxed, to feel confident and proud of yourself. Physical activity plays a huge role in helping the mental health side of life for anyone, especially veterans.”
That’s why Team Red, White & Blue revolves around physical activity. They not only bring people together, they also help veterans set goals and create a sense of accomplishment.
“When you accomplish a goal, say, you want to run a half [marathon]. And then you train, you put in the effort, and then the feeling that comes from when you knock down a goal is incredible,” says Erwin.
Mike Erwin is the co-author of Lead Yourself First (2017) and the newly released Leadership is a Relationship.