Local veterans not just heroes, they’re innovators

Anne Sprute is a retired Army pilot and founder of RP/6 in Lakewood.
Anne Sprute is a retired Army pilot and founder of RP/6 in Lakewood. Courtesy

Ask a soldier for a word they think of that starts with “I” and you might hear “integrity.” Ask a Washingtonian and you might hear “innovation.”

The culture of innovation in our state has created Fortune 50 companies that connect people globally, whether with information technology thanks to Microsoft, transportation thanks to Boeing, essential products thanks to Amazon, or with other people over a great cup of coffee thanks to Starbucks.

The culture of integrity fostered by the military has created generations of Americans who have selflessly answered the call to serve. The country appropriately honored them this month on Veterans Day.

In Lakewood, we combined the best of military and Washington culture to create an innovative solution to the sometimes-difficult transition from military to civilian life.

At RP/6, we ensure no service member, veteran or military family member’s talent is left on the bench when their time in uniform is complete. We connect them with the best resources and opportunities to leverage their talent across the country.

In the final job of my 24-year military career, I was responsible for ensuring that soldiers and families transitioning out of the military landed successfully in civilian communities.

As my soldiers began considering a life off Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I listened to them, and consistently witnessed the overwhelming challenge of navigating what came next.

Should they use their Post-9/11 GI Bill to go back to school and get technical training or pursue a four-year degree? Should they apply for a position with some of the big name companies in Seattle? Should they accept a position from one of the many faraway recruiters pursuing people with security clearances?

When I left the Army, there was at least one question to which I already knew the answer: I would stay in Washington. In the Army, I flew helicopters, and few places were more inspiring to see from above than the Pacific Northwest. It sparks a drive to challenge yourself, to think outside of the possible and to make more out of what you have at hand.

I knew I wanted to be here, to build something for my soldiers and to do more to serve my community. Faced with the same questions as my soldiers, I approached them with a military mindset: develop a plan, devise tactics, execute and adjust as necessary. In a word: innovate.

The big idea became RP/6, a one-stop “rally point” for transitioning service members, veterans and families. Just as I counseled soldiers, the RP/6 staff work directly with veterans and family members to chart personal plans toward their goals, whether it’s getting a job, attaining more education, connecting them with VA benefits or finding a place to live.

We have doggedly established relationships with those who want to be a part of our success. Community and business leaders from Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and other communities in the region have inspired us by showing up and being present for duty.

Like other innovators in Washington, we are constantly looking to improve our processes and be disruptive in how we approach the delivery of services to troops stepping into new roles as civic assets.

Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon and Starbucks are able to connect people globally because Washington fosters entrepreneurs and innovators. Now service members, veterans and families are able to connect with their communities because of RP/6 and our model of integration.

Together, we have proudly connected more than 11,000 people to community resources. Now, we are taking the innovation-forward culture of the Pacific Northwest and going national, hoping to lead the way for others connecting and serving veterans.

Anne Sprute is the founder and CEO of Lakewood-based RP/6. She retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer 4, lives in Lakewood and grew up in Richland. For more information about RP/6, call 253-777-0556 or go to rp6.org.