Team RWB (Red, White, Blue) is an organization whose mission is to support the veterans of the United States Armed Forces by working to “guide them through that journey with real-life and virtual opportunities focused on building a healthier lifestyle because a strong focus on mental and physical health is critical to ensuring veterans’ best days are ahead.”
There are over 232,000 members of Team RWB, and the founder/executive director of that organization is Mike Erwin, who is very familiar with both service to country and living the healthy lifestyle. Lieutenant Colonel Erwin’s grandfather was a World War II serviceman, who was a part of D-Day. His father worked as a police sergeant, and his mother was actually the first female police officer on the Syracuse Police force in Syracuse, NY.
“There was a lot of public service in my family,” said Erwin. He, himself is a West Point graduate who was also playing baseball at a Division 1 level. He was starting his senior year at West Point when the September 11th, 2011 attacks took place. With that commitment to service in mind, Erwin was one of the many that rushed to America’s defense in the aftermath of those events.
“I went to Fort Hood, Texas, then I was deployed to Iraq for a year,” he recalled. After that year, he was stationed at Fort Bragg, NC as a part of Special Forces. Erwin worked as an intelligence officer for the First Battalion. He recalled that his first deployment wouldn’t be his last.
“I was then deployed to Afghanistan twice,” said Erwin. “That ‘02 to ‘09 window was intense.”
Imagine being in a race car going at top speed, then all of a sudden stopping dead in your tracks. That analogy could be applied to Erwin’s life after his deployments. Erwin would receive two Bronze Stars for his deployments, but life slowed down once he returned to American soil. That slowdown took quite a bit of time to adjust to.
“It was really eleven years, counting West Point, but that pace of life was really, really fast. I didn’t have time to process anything or think creatively because I was just knocking down targets. Then, I went to graduate school for two years.”
That transition led him to the University of Michigan where he would earn a Master’s degree in both psychology and leadership. He would go on to return to West Point and serve as an assistant professor. His 13th and final active year was spent at Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. He would then transition into the Army Reserves, where he still serves today.
“I am still a Lieutenant Colonel and I’ve been in this role for the last seven years.”
Throughout his entire military career, Erwin had an anchor that he could count on, and it was fitness. He played baseball at West Point, but he found another passion as well – running.
“West Point is pretty hilly, but it has beautiful run routes,” he explained. “Starting in the summer, we would put on some pretty fast runs there. I may not enjoy it while I’m doing it, but boy, do I feel great after I do it?”
That feeling has stayed with Erwin ever since. He went on to run in several marathons as well as ten ultra-marathons. He’s a fan of rowing nowadays, but that commitment to his personal self has been and will continue to be there. Erwin actually found a way to combine both his service and passion in a way that could benefit many others while he was a graduate student at UM. The seed for Team RWB was planted after the Green Beret was leaving Fort Bragg to go to Michigan.
“The guys said ‘hey Erwin, don’t get soft because you don’t have to impress us Green Berets anymore.’ It was a tongue in cheek kind of thing, but it wasn’t lost on me,” he explained. Erwin realized that part of him pushing himself was the social pressure that he felt on himself. That made him think about those veterans that no longer focused on fitness after their active careers ended.
“I can’t imagine how hard it is to drum up the motivation to stay physically active once that structure and pressure that the military provided all went away. I can see why so many veterans that were so fit stopped exercising.”
Knowing that many of the health issues that veterans faced could be curtailed by staying fit, he founded Team RWB to provide both the structure and community support that veterans need so they do maintain that commitment and fulfill their personal potential. Team RWB has events throughout the country that involve fitness challenges. Erwin was preparing for such a challenge at the time he was interviewed.
“The team reminds myself and everyone that served that when we leave the military, a lot of things go with it. You don’t have to shave anymore or get the same haircut anymore, but don’t stop exercising.”
At the time of this writing, Team RWB is at 232,000 strong, and its growing. Erwin was the original executive director. He would give up that role for a short time, but he is back in that position now, and he’s actively searching for more members to join the team, whether they served or not.
“We want people to join the team and be a part of the mission,” he said emphatically. “30% of our members are not in the military. They only care about the health and well-being of our veterans. You can donate and things like that as well, but most importantly, we just want people to get more involved.”
Erwin isn’t just concerned about past military members, he’s also passionate about future heroes as well. He wants to see more young people get in shape and make the decision to serve. Erwin expressed that the choice isn’t only about country, but it can be a guiding light in helping
people realize their fitness potential. It’s up to everyone that is in a position to inspire and educate kids to help make that happen.
“We need coaches, teachers, parents, anyone that is molding younger people to know that we need more people to serve, and we need them healthy enough to do so. We need young people to choose to step up as a free society,” he expressed. “This is legit, and if we can start them off on the right foot at age 13, 14, 15 by getting them committed enough to move their bodies and exercise enough so they can serve if they choose to, it can be a big difference. It’s very important.”