“In the military, you have that camaraderie, and when you get out, you lose that. In Team RWB, you gain that family and get connected with the community.”
former Army specialist
Victoria Okuly, a former Army specialist, said it’s common to lose the sense of camaraderie when leaving the military, but within her first year with the Joint Base Lewis-McChord chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, she found it again.
It was evident as she was cheered on by her fellow Team RWB Eagles as she tired near the second half of the 1,628-step race Saturday at Stadium High School’s football stadium. Okuly was one of more than a dozen participants from the group to run in the 2017 Unleashed at Stadium Bowl in Tacoma Sunday at Stadium High School’s football stadium.
Tom LeMaitre, a Navy retiree, was by her side for the last four staircases. He along with others rallied around Okuly as she jogged down the stadium’s track toward the finish line. It’s the kind of support system Okuly has missed since leaving the Army in 2008 and moving to the Pacific Northwest.
“In the military, you have that camaraderie, and when you get out, you lose that,” Okuly said. “In Team RWB, you gain that family and get connected with the community.”
Team RWB has several chapters across the country — within military installations and civilian communities. The JBLM chapter is a unique group that includes current and retired service members from JBLM and other local installations, as well as spouses and civilians in and around Tacoma and Olympia.
The group organizes fitness classes like yoga, but members also participate in local races and other athletic events. The physical demands of running all 1,628 stairs falls in line with Team RWB’s mission of enriching the lives of veterans by connecting them with the civilian community.
“Getting out there and being active does wonders for the psyche just by itself, but you add in fellow Eagles and now you have an event where folks shared some pain and they’ve become friends,” said Scott Whisler, chapter captain of Team RWB JBLM. “Those are the bonds that truly make a difference and really matter when we start struggling in life.”
This was especially true for the few that decided to go with the event’s two-lap option — a total of 3,256 steps. Whisler did the two-lap option, while his son Caden, 6, did just one.
Although Whisler, a strength trainer and strongman competitor by trade, had never participated in Unleashed before, the event was still a chance to do something to inspire his fellow Eagles and others around him.
“When they see me doing something (like this), I hope it inspires them,” Whisler said. “(They might say) ‘He doesn’t fit the molds of someone who runs stairs; maybe I can do it, too.’”
It turns out LeMaitre’s American flag that he carried during the one-lap stair run motivated others around him. He handed it to other Team RWB runners, including his wife, Jackie, to finish the final stretch to the finish line.
LeMaitre said the flagpole’s weight began to take a toll in the second half of the stadium, but he didn’t want to the run without the flag.
“It was worth every ounce carrying it,” LeMaitre said.
JBLM’s Team RWB chapter is interested in bringing in new members, regardless of their military branch affiliation. The group will host a special craft event to go along with a planning meeting at the Lacey Veterans Services Hub Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 4232 Sixth Ave. SE in Lacey.
For more information about the group or Team RWB, visit teamrwb.org, or find the JBLM chapter on Facebook by searching “Team RWB JBLM.”