USO, Team RWB Partner to Inspire, Empower Veterans

- ESTES PARK, Colo., Aug. 4, 2014 - The benefits of the partnership between the USO and Team Red, White and Blue were on full display over the weekend as they brought together a confluence of leadership, empowerment and inspiration with a three-day rock-climbing camp 7,522 feet above sea level.
Andrew Hutchinson, a San Francisco-based Army veteran and director of camps and special programs for Team RWB, explained the goal of the camp.
"There are three things we really want them to leave with: knowledge, inspiration and empowerment," he said. "On the knowledge side, we want them not only to learn a new sport, but also to learn some leadership."
The goal, Hutchinson said, was for people to come to the camp and leave with the skills necessary to continue to rock climb on their own.
"They'll have the knowledge to be able to find a rock gym and become a part of that," he said. Obviously, he added, the vveterans wouldn't learn everything about rock climbing at the camp.
"But you hope that you can give them some tools --some things to think about -- so they can communicate more effectively," he said. "We hope that this camp inspires the individuals to go back, and hopefully, pass what they've learned onto others."
Hutchinson said he believes the camps inspire veterans and Team RWB members, helping them to realize they're a part of "something good that they were kind of missing before."
"Usually at these camps, immediately they find someone that was deployed to the same area when they were there, or in the same unit," he said. "You see that kind of bonding occur right away."
Another aim, he said, is for the camp participants to feel empowered to take control of their lives, their health and their reintegration. Hutchinson lauded the USO for its partnership and support in the Team RWB camps program.
"Last year, the USO was very generous," he said. "Once they found out about Team Red, White and Blue and the different programs we have, they wanted to support us. They wanted to give us support for the camps program, so last year, they helped fund our trail-running camp and our yoga camp. They liked what they saw and how we were using the money. The camps were benefitting veterans and active duty members and civilians of Team RWB."
This year, he said, the USO expressed interest in supporting the entire camps program, not just one or two.
"They've been generous and funded a large part of all seven of our camps this year," Hutchinson said. "As we continue to grow, I think we'll work more and more with the USO. They've been very supportive of our camps."
Hutchinson said he expects the camp program to continue its growth.
"I think the camp program is one that's going to continue to grow, and I think the camps kind of embody us as an organization," he said, adding that he hopes to have 12 camps next year and more in years to come.
These community-based activities help to re-awaken some people who may no longer be in leadership positions in their everyday jobs, Hutchinson said.
"It gets you out of your comfort zone," he added. "I think sometimes the most growth happens when you are outside of your comfort zone. Maybe not right in that moment, but when you conquer that fear, ... I think it makes you a stronger person down the road, for sure."
The rock-climbing camp's participants were equally appreciative of the USO and Team RWB's efforts to inspire, empower and teach them.
"It was a really awesome event -- something I wouldn't have probably ventured out to do on my own necessarily," said Jill Glasenapp, a 13-year Army veteran. "Something that now I've been exposed to, I'd totally do. So I think the purpose of the camp was met."
Glasenapp said she felt "totally confident" after stepping outside the limits of her normal comfort zone.
"It makes you think out of the box, ... especially when you talk about physical activities," she said. "I had no idea how strenuous rock-climbing really is. And maybe it's not supposed to be, but it is. I think it totally takes you outside of the box and gives you a lot of confidence to be able to some stuff you might not normally do on your own."
The Manhattan, Kansas, native also shared her perspective on the USO-Team RWB partnership.
"I think it was the most amazing collaboration when you think about their mission statements," Glasenapp said. "The USO is there to support our service members and their families. And then Team Red, White and Blue is there to support the veterans, so why not marry the two up to put on something that supports all those different realms?"
Team Red, White and Blue is not just for veterans, she added, but also is for family members and community members, so it's a perfect relationship, especially for this kind of camp.
Kristyn Conner, one of those Team RWB members, said she felt "re-energized" by the camp and the opportunity to learn more about military culture.
"I don't understand the military culture very much," she said, "and that's what RWB kind of brings to the table for me. It allows me to interact with people and understand where they're coming from."
As captain of Team RWB's Tucson, Arizona, chapter, Conner said, she viewed the rock-climbing camp as an opportunity to "completely immerse" herself in learning.
"I hope to take all the leadership knowledge and skills that I learned back to my chapter and get everyone else back in Tucson amped up," she said.
Conner faced her own adversity as she overcame her fear of heights to climb towering rock faces and even to undertake a Tyrolean traverse -- a method of crossing between two high points on a rope.
"I was up on that wall and my fear of heights took over," she said. "But I think my belayer, J.J. Pinter, who's the director of operations, said something that really rings true for me this weekend," she said. "It's 'You can't be brave until you're afraid.' So stepping out of your comfort zone -- if you don't do it, you're not going to develop, grow and progress as an individual."
Speaking about the opportunity provided by the USO-Team RWB partnership, Conner expressed her gratitude for the union.
"I know I speak for everyone when I say how grateful we are for this partnership," she said. "Stuff like this would probably not be happening at all, or [certainly] not on a regular basis, and this is what RWB is about. We are primarily a voluntary organization. They invest in people. And this is an investment in the people who are going to carry the organization forward, and it's invaluable."

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