Grow with the Flow

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"Grow with the Flow"
by Antonio Ruiz
November 27, 2019

Yes “Grow with the Flow” is a play on words but perfectly describes my personal mantra as well as the mission of the ReGroup Foundation that we founded in 2015. ReGroup Foundation’s mission is transition. Transition from military service back to civilian life. I am a veteran (10 years Army medic) so I’ve been there and know first hand what is required to successfully transition. The medic in me wants everyone be the healthiest they can be.

This desire goes all the way back to my childhood wishing I could heal my mother’s schizophrenia. I quickly learned to adapt as I spent my early years bouncing around living with family all over the country. I learned early how to “grow with the flow”.

At 16 I got my girlfriend pregnant so I had to postpone my plans to go to college to instead go to work to provide for my family. After several years of working multiple jobs and another layoff; I saw an Army billboard that read “Be a Doctor. Join the Army.” so I turned into the recruiters office. Grow with the flow.

I had a very successful & rewarding 10 years serving in 1/75, 2/75, 1SFG, and 82nd however; I was forced to get out to take the civilian physician assistant college route with the plan to re-enlist to finish out my career. Grow with the flow. During this sidestep; I went through a divorce and worked security jobs that landed me in prison. It was here that I first thought “How did I get here?” And “How can I prevent others from a similar event?” Grow with the flow.

Over the next decade I reconnected with my military family. One of the most impactful and meaningful reconnections was with Lou Olivera, a FO that I treated in the combat fields of Panama during Operation Just Cause in December 1989. I never know what became of Lou after he was medivacked so imagine my surprise to find him again 25 years later in Denver, CO at a Ranger breakfast. Over the next several years, I shared my thoughts, my struggles, and my dream to once again serve my brothers and sisters in a meaningful way with him. He encouraged me and willingly shared all he had learned from setting up and running his non profit, The Honor Bell Foundation. We became great friends that celebrated each other’s successes and we were there for each other when they needed to vent. Running a non profit can be challenging but we were both determined to grow with the flow.

In July 2018; I got the call that way too many of us receive these days. Lou was gone. “Why?” The flood of emotions that come with suicide are almost overwhelming. I still replay conversations we had. Did I miss something? Could I have prevented this? I revert back to the Ranger Creed that I have been reciting since I was a young man. “Surrender is not a Ranger word”. I must go on with my mission and I’m now more determined than ever to grow with the flow…

I believe Lou is still patrolling from above. The artwork featured in our #GivingTuesday campaign is from Gerardo Cazares, an Army veteran that goes by the artist name of “Ghost” that never met Lou. We asked him to create artwork that represented growth and perseverance as veterans transition from the military to civilian life. Imagine our surprise when we saw his design with a helmet like the one Lou was wearing when he was shot in Panama and came up with the statement “Grow with the flow” that inspired this story.

Life is a constantly fluctuating obstacle course. We must regroup, pivot, and grow with the flow.

ReGroup Foundation is building ReGroup Ranches to provide transition support to veterans. The first ranch is under construction in New Braunfels, TX. Just 2 cents a day from every adult in America could build a ReGroup Ranch in every state. From there, we are self sufficient as we operate aquaponic businesses to cover all program expenses.