HELENA — A brand-new group in the capital city wants to connect veterans with the community through physical and social activities, like a hike or ball game.
The people working to launch Team Red, White and Blue in Helena each have a different connection to military life, but they all agree their approach is unique and comes with life-changing impacts.
“Veterans from every walk have dealt with amazing stress in their lives, trauma, a lot of times,” said David Oclander, the chapter captain and CEO of the Helena YMCA. “And so through physical activity, we know we’re gonna impact the body, and we’re gonna impact the brain.”
Almost 7,000 veterans call Lewis and Clark County home.
Oclander is one of them. He spent more than 20 years in the military, including as Battalion Commander in Kandahar, Afghanistan and Brigade Chief of Staff in Baghdad, Iraq.
Veterans are the focus of Team RWB, which already has chapters across the country. Their goal is improving the lives of veterans through fitness, as well as connecting them to the community.
"Whether you’re a veteran from the Navy, Army, Air Force, wherever, it’s something where people from different organizations can get together,” said Oclander.
Anthony Butler knows about the benefits of physical activity. He commanded one of the lead infantry companies into Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
He says when he returned, the transition was difficult.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu helped. He hopes Team RWB can do the same for others.
"Taking care of your body, really contributes to taking care of your mental health," said Butler.
“Coming back into civilian life is hard,” said Chantelle Dykman. “It’s not just hard for veterans, but for family members too.”
Her husband, Scott Dykman, died in Iraq in 2006. Their two children were young.
Chantelle says Scott would have loved Team RWB.
“He’d be gung ho,” she said. “He’d absolutely love this organization.”
“It’s not a hand up, it’s not a hand out,” said Chantelle. “We’re going forward as a community, as a family.”
She also believes in the mission.
“He was absolutely all about helping people,” she said. “He’d give the shirt off his back to help somebody else. So this would be huge for him, to be able to help comrades in arm.”
Team RWB’s first event is October 5th. They’re meeting at the Helena YMCA at 8 a.m. and then hiking Mount Helena.
Veterans, service members and civilians are all welcome.