United Rentals employees go the distance to demonstrate their commitment to helping military veterans.
What lies between Chicago, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin? For one thing, 200 long miles — long, that is, if you’re running them over the course of 36 sleepless hours as part of a Ragnar Relay, a series of overnight races for teams of six or twelve runners.
That’s just what Nick Kahler, director of national account services at United Rentals, did with a group of colleagues and his wife to raise money for Team Red White & Blue, a nonprofit devoted to helping military veterans reintegrate into civilian life after returning from active duty.
Team Red White & Blue hosts exercise events and social activities that encourage veterans and members of their communities to build meaningful bonds. It’s an approach that works: Ninety percent of members say being part of Team RWB increases their sense of belonging to a larger community.
The organization has chapters across the United States, touching the lives of more than 108,000 members through group runs, yoga classes, golf tournaments, tailgating parties and other events. Not only do the activities foster a sense of community, they also aim to help veterans cope with PTSD, combat-related injuries and stress.
United Rentals’ Kahler got involved with the Team RWB’s Phoenix chapter after serving active duty in the Army from 2000 to 2005. He found it to be “an easy place for veterans to plug in at will.” His passion for the organization was one of the reasons he was able to convince 10 fellow employees to run the Ragnar Relay. They spent months collecting donations for Team RWB — just over $5,000 in all — while United Rentals sponsored the team’s registration fees and the vans that followed the runners.
“Instead of just running it for fun, we raised money from customers and families of the runners. It was just 20, 40 or 60 bucks at a time, and it felt really authentic,” said Kahler.
The relay pushed the team to its limits. Each member ran a total of 15 to 23 miles over three segments, switching off throughout the day and night as the rest of the team kept each other motivated in the vans. They ran the last leg together, crossing the finish line on a scorching June day.
Andrea Brugger, director of digital commerce at United Rentals, ran with Kahler and the rest of the team. “We supported each other, built a community and figured out how to interact and achieve success, and it’s a lot like what Team RWB does for veterans. It tied it all together for me,” said Brugger.
Supporting military veterans is part of the culture at United Rentals.
“It’s important for corporations to support communities and ideas that matter to them. For us at United Rentals, it happens to be veterans,” said Kahler.
For example, the company offers a Service to Employment Program (STEP) to help veterans transition to the workforce, supports veteran-oriented charities such as Boulder Crest [and Fisher House Foundation and partners with organizations including SoldierSocks (now SoldierStrong), which provides Ekso™ Bionic Suits to paralyzed veterans.
For more information on Team Red White & blue, visit www.teamrwb.org.
Joni Sweet is a journalist who writes about inspiring people and places.