The Purple Heart Workout and the Eagles Behind It
The Purple Heart is one of our nation's oldest military decorations. It was first introduced by General George Washington in 1782 as the "Badge of Military Merit" to recognize soldiers who went above and beyond the call of duty. Today, the Purple Heart is a medal presented to service members injured or killed in service to our country.
On Purple Heart Day, 07 August, Team RWB will honor the more than 1.8 million brave service members who have received the Purple Heart, like these members of Eagle Nation, as part of our August Monthly Mission - the Purple Heart Workout.
In 2007, just a few days after high school, Chris Panilaitis joined the Marines and opted for the infantry. His first deployment was aboard a Navy ship as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit. In 2010, after six months of training to become an IED detection dog handler, he was deployed to Afghanistan.
During his time in Afghanistan, Chris and his dog would patrol together in the mornings and afternoons. They received orders one day to head to a new patrol base area without the dog. After no activity in the field, they made their way on foot towards the road. There, they were struck by a remote control IED after only 25 yards.
Chris and his closest friend took the blast, with his friend suffering extensive injuries. Despite being hit by shrapnel, Chris remembers seeing a brown cloud but feeling and hearing nothing. Thankfully, both Chris and his good friend recovered and they continue to have a close friendship to this day.
After leaving the military, Chris felt isolated. He says there seemed to be “no people to connect with, and it was hard to relate to civilians.” That’s why finding Team RWB was a monumental moment in his life — Eagles shared a similar mentality that he instantly connected with. In his own words, “everyone is easy to get along with when getting out and doing events together.”
Not only did Chris find friendship and camaraderie with Team RWB, but at a chapter event in Port Orange, FL, Chris met a veteran volunteer leader from another Florida chapter, Grace — he and Grace are now married and continue to be active in Team RWB.
Connie Johnson served as a Military Police officer with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Connie served in Iraq from March 2003 to January 2004, conducting numerous missions including convoy security, POW camps, Iraqi Police training, and personnel security throughout the duration of her deployment.
Connie was struck by shrapnel while on a personnel security run to a mosque in Mosul, Iraq in January 2004. An IED was placed at the base of the Tigris River bridge and she and another soldier were injured in the blast. Connie experienced shrapnel that cut through the side of her neck and a TBI from the blast and received the solemn distinction of the Purple Heart as a result.
After leaving the service, Connie found refuge in outdoor activities as her way of coping with her injuries. She started with fishing and hiking and now owns her own flower farm. Connie loves Team RWB’s mission and believes that veterans, families, and communities can come together and heal without having to dive deep into the tragedies people have faced.
“Being a soldier was easy, I did what I was told; being a veteran is hard. You have no one telling you how to navigate your recovery journey but yourself. Not everyone is good at advocating for themselves; it took me years to learn my voice and what to say. It’s events like those of Team RWB that allow us to come together and share awareness that we are here. We are here and are worth speaking up for,” said Connie.
Connie is Chapter Captain for Team RWB South Dakota State University — the first collegiate Team RWB chapter in the nation.
Michael McClure is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army with 28 years on active duty. Michael received the Purple Heart after being injured on January 9, 2007, when his convoy was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) while responding to a call that a checkpoint was under attack in Baghdad, Iraq. After recovering from his injuries, Michael found that physical activity offered significant value to his life. Today, as a Team RWB El Paso chapter member, Michael enjoys being motivated by others and taking on both physical and virtual challenges with Eagle Nation.
“The Purple Heart, while (rightfully) recognized as an honor to receive one, is a medal that most recipients would prefer to not have received. That said, I feel like a lot of fellow recipients who I have talked with are more than willing to share their stories. It’s important for civilians to feel comfortable asking a service member or veteran to share their Purple Heart story when they find out someone has received one,” said Michael.
Join us in honoring the many members of Eagle Nation who have received the Purple Heart by taking part in our monthly mission on National Purple Heart Day.