A Relay for Old Glory, A Team for Life

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. – By midmorning on Sept. 30, traffic was already thick along the Pacific Coast Highway. Sgt. 1st Class Ric Chavez stood on the sidewalk and peered through a haze of sea mist to where the road disappeared in a horizon of rolling, rocky coastline. He was looking for a flag – Old Glory, to be precise – which he and his teammates from the Fort Irwin chapter of Team Red, White & Blue would carry more than 30 miles to Oceanside as part of the national Old Glory Relay.

The relay is Team RWB’s most celebrated event, a massive undertaking involving more than 70 teams that collectively walk, run and bike the flag over a 4,600-mile, cross-country journey that begins in Seattle on Sept. 11 and finishes in Tampa, Fla. on Veterans Day. It represents the essence of the national organization’s mission: bringing together Soldiers, their family members, and their communities to enrich the lives of veterans. A year ago, the fledgling Fort Irwin team was in no position to take part in the annual relay. But this year, with membership growing to more than 200, participation was never a question.

The team preps for action as Old Glory approaches. The Fort Irwin chapter carried the flag more than 30 miles from Laguna Beach to Oceanside, Calif.

“We really made a drive for four hours to get down here,” said Chavez. “That’s how dedicated this team is.”

The devotion of the team’s members, both to the organization and to each other, is the key ingredient fueling its meteoric growth at Fort Irwin. Its appeal was on full display at the Old Glory Relay as teammates piled out of vans, their conversation light and familiar while they stretched and waited for the flag to arrive. They were mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors. The night before they had camped near the beach, hanging out around the barbecue. At its core, the team has created a true community, something that isn’t always easy to find, said Staff Sgt. Marcus Walker, who joined nine months ago with his wife, Sgt. Marvy Walker.

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“In most senses, people think just because you live together, you have a community,” he said. “If you don’t interact with your neighbors, with people you would never talk to in any other case, then you don’t really have a community, you just have a neighborhood.”

On the south side of Laguna Beach, runners hand off the flag to Fort Irwin's second group of team members. Fort Irwin's leg of the relay included runners, walkers and cyclists.

It took many hours, and many hands, to build Fort Irwin’s “Eagle” community, as Team RWB members are known. But the team can trace its roots to Chavez. Stationed at Fort Irwin in 2014, Chavez felt that he was missing a sense of connection, and he self-identified depression. At the urging of a mentor, he joined the Inland Empire chapter of Team RWB. They, in turn, encouraged him to start a local chapter at Fort Irwin, and he began posting invitations on social media to run at the Blue Track. It didn’t start out so well.

“The first two or three times, nobody showed up. I was just out there all sad and lonely by myself,” Chavez said. “And then one time my run was over, and some lady came running up to me saying ‘Hey! I was going to run with you.’ She became one of the leaders, then she brought somebody else and they became a leader, and they brought somebody else and they became a leader.”

Runners from the Fort Irwin and Inland Empire chapters of Team RWB carried Old Glory through downtown Laguna Beach.

News of the team spread, and so did the popularity of their telltale red Eagle t-shirts. While they started out running, members soon expanded the group’s activities to biking, swimming, hiking, and community service. They now organize trash pick-ups and visit the veteran’s home in Barstow, and participate in national Team RWB events like the Old Glory Relay and Waves of Valor, a program that teaches veterans to surf. Families meet up for coffee and ice cream socials, and some members have even started a triathlon training program. In fact, there is usually at least one team activity every day of the week, said Maggie Chavez, who serves as the Fort Irwin chapter captain. And when team members travel to other military posts or visit cities across the country, they are often welcomed by local Eagles who are happy to go for a jog, grab a bite to eat, or lend a helping hand.

“It’s a family,” Maggie said.

Her husband, Ric, agreed.

“Our lives and schedules have adjusted so we can hang out with our friends more,” he said. “This has nothing to do about rank, or position, or where you work, or who your boss is. It’s really just making that connection with somebody and networking with people.”

During the Old Glory Relay, it's all about the flag and the team. The flag began its journey Sept. 11 in Seattle, and by the time it crosses the finish line in Tampa, Fla. on Veterans Day, it will have traveled more than 4,600 miles.

Joining a team like RWB was never something he saw himself doing, Ric Chavez said, but it has given him a sense of accountability and camaraderie. Anyone is welcome to come check out Fort Irwin’s Team RWB events, posted on their Facebook page, and stop by to talk with members, he added. Or, those interested in joining can learn more about the team on the national organization’s website, teamrwb.org.

“You don’t have to join RWB, you can come say hi and leave,” he said. “But the point is you made an effort to come say hi to somebody, and that somebody might be your next battle buddy, that might be your networking guy, that might be your next best friend.”

Vets, supporters, carry flag across Houston during cross-country relay

By the time the runners clear out of downtown Houston Monday morning, they will already have carried their flag for more than 3,000 miles over the last six weeks.

But it will take another three weeks and hundreds of miles more before runners reach the end of the relay, in Tampa, Fla.

Every year, Team Red, White, and Blue's runners carry an American flag across the United States, during the organization's "Old Glory Relay," one of the non-profit's most visible efforts in its mission connecting veterans with each other and their communities after finishing military service.

The relay began on Sept. 11, in Seattle. Over 62 days, runners, cyclists and walkers from more than 70 teams of veterans, active servicemembers, and civilians, carry the flag 4,600 miles across the nation until reaching Florida.

"It just brings people together," said Donnie Starling, a Team RWB spokesman. "When I put a flag in your hand and say 'go run,' you're going to smile. You're going to enjoy it."

Runners had arrived on the western outskirts of Houston by Friday, moved through the city over the weekend, and were set to push 55 miles east, to Devers, by the end of the day Monday.

The route is several hundred miles longer than last year's, Starling said.

Brandi Peasley, 45, had helped carry the flag with several friends Saturday, as the relay neared Houston.

An Army Reservist for more than two decades, she now works in facilities management for a local oil and gas company.

She got involved with Team RWB in 2011, she said.

"I was just fascinated by opportunity to meet other veterans or people interested in what vets have done," she said. "It's a unique friendship ...You automatically have something in common, a common language"

When she travels for work, she know she'll have friends to back her up.

Though she's participated in other Team RWB events numerous times over the last few years, she'd never run in the coast-to-coast relay, she said.

"It's about the team," she said. "This kind of relay just takes it to the next level."

Philip Swift, 33, went on two tours to Iraq during his time in the Army reserves.

When he first returned from his deployments, he found himself struggling to acclimate back to civilian life -- so much so that he went back to Iraq as a military contractor.

"I was scared to be out in the world," he said, recalling a sapping depression. "It didn't feel normal."

Years later, he now works in digital advertising for a local car dealer and has a wife and two-year-old daughter.

The story of the flag's perseverance particularly resonates with him after watching Houston withstand the battering of Hurricane Harvey. The storm had flooded out his childhood home in northwest Houston, and he'd watched fellow veterans leap to action to try to help stricken communities, he said.

"Here in Houston, we saw it. ... The flood came up, the water went away, the city of Houston was still here," he said. "Everybody got back up, cleaned off their boots, and went back to work."

Old Glory Relay makes Liberty on day 43

The Old Glory Relay made its way through Dayton and Liberty today.

This is the fourth year for the relay, carrying Old Glory from Seattle, Washington, to Tampa, Florida.

Organized by Team RWB — that’s Team Red, White and Blue — 74 teams are relaying the flag across the country in 62 days, having left Seattle on Sept. 11 and expecting to arrive in Tampa on Veterans Day.

They set out this morning from the VA in Houston and will stop for the night in Devers. Tomorrow they set out for Beaumont and points east.

Besides fundraising, the purpose of the relay and of Team RWB itself is to enrich the lives of veterans by helping to connect them to their communities through physical and social activity.

Through much of the relay, including the section through Liberty County, Team RWB has the assistance of the Wounded Warriors Project.

Ten participants carried the flag today, including Isaac Fox, Brittany Bussey and Barbara Bussey, who ran and biked Old Glory through Dayton and Liberty.

To learn more about Team RWB and the Old Glory Relay, visit teamrwb.org.

Veterans group running across US will be in Eunice Wednesday, public invited to show support

A veterans group running across the country with the American flag is visiting Eunice Wednesday and the public is invited to show support.

It's part of the Old Glory Relay.

The 46th leg of the relay will be arriving in Eunice from Ragley between 3 and 5 pm at the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) POST 3809 Hall on Highway 190.

It will have traveled from Seattle, Washington, beginning September 11 on its two-month journey to its final destination of Tampa, Florida on Veterans Day, November 11, 2017.

A reception will be held for the Relay Team at the end of the day's journey on October 25 at the VFW Hall. The public is encouraged to attend and show support for their cause.

The 47th leg of the relay will depart from the VFW POST on the morning of October 26 on its way to Livonia.

At the end of the run, the One Flag will have traveled 4600 miles in two months time.

The purpose of the relay is to raise funds and awareness for the Veterans across the country that its support.

Cross-country flag-carrying relay makes stop in SA

SAN ANTONIO - An American flag on a 4,600-mile cross-country adventure made a stop Thursday in San Antonio as part of the fourth annual Old Glory Relay.

Veterans and volunteers are carrying the flag through Military City USA to its final destination in Tampa, Florida. The relay started in Seattle.

"It's to show we are all together in this," said Janelle Uroff, who is among thousands of military veterans and volunteers participating in the relay. "The fact (that) we are part of something larger than we are." 

Participants take part in the relay by running, walking or biking while carrying an American flag.

The relay, which started on Sept. 11 and ends Nov. 11 on Veterans Day, means so much for those involved.

"The injury I got in service precluded me in participating in physical activity. I'm not a particular fan of running, but I think my disability doesn't define me, and I'm not going to let it limit me in participating in something like this," said Nicholas McGahan, a Marine who is running in the event.

The idea is to take the flag across the country and bring communities together along the way.

"In this particular political climate, I think it's important communities come together, work together for a purpose. And I think for us today, it is moving this flag forward across the country," McGahan said.

U.S. flag traveling the country passes through El Paso

A U.S. flag is traveling from coast to coast and it’s passing through El Paso on Thursday.

The flag’s journey began in Seattle Washington on Sept. 11 and its end goal is Tampa, FL by Nov. 11, or Veterans Day.

Local members of Team RWB are carrying the flag Thursday from San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso to Fort Hancock, Texas.

Groups will jog in 2-mile intervals with the flag before passing it off to the next group. They will run 58 miles in total.

Participants say their goal is to come together to honor those who have fought for America’s freedom while creating a public display of support for veterans as they pass through U.S. cities.

They want to raise awareness and generate funding in support of veterans.

On Friday, the local members of Team RWB will bike from Fort Hancock to Van Horn, Texas, covering 72 miles.