I Found a Home in Military Green, then Mission Continues Blue

October 16, 2018
By David Riera, Volunteer

Miami’s 1st and Broward’s 1st platoons have two unique things in mind: environmental stewardship and youth development. It is within this cross-sectional focus that the two platoons come together and literally build community, one nail and wooden plank at time.

As a member of this community, I have found strength, not through the force of hands; wisdom, not through the wealth of experience; and kinship, not through the number of bodies. I have discovered these attributes and more, like empathy, kindness and sacrifice through their capacity to accept me as I am.

My Struggle to Find Acceptance

Growing up in Miami as an Afro-Hispanic American was difficult. Both of my parents were immigrants, one from Cuba and the other from Spain, and this is where I joined my first uncommon team of many to come.

My dad, a very learned man, read the following to me:

We came to America. Either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they seen before, to get rid of the things that divided and to make sure of the thing that united.

Woodrow Wilson

I reflect on this quote by Woodrow Wilson a lot with my dad, because this is a deeper understanding and illustration of the American Dream. A dream which many families from all over the world risk life and death to attain, sometimes for themselves, but more often for their children.

How the Military Surprised Me

My father never wanted me to join the military, as he had served in Spain and knew that a military life would a hard life, especially with the history of non-acceptance in the U.S. military from race to creed and from color to sexual orientation.

What a relief it was when I got to Parris Island and everyone was getting screamed at equally!

I learned at that recruit depot that we were all one color green with different shades, from light green to dark green and all the points in between. I didn’t know how I fit in, but I knew that I was on the green line of shades.

Then, I Lost My Green Family

After Iraq, returning to civilian life, I didn’t see the green continuum of shades anymore; I saw racism, ageism, and genderism, discrimination for being disabled (physically, mentally, and emotionally) or of a certain religious, social, or institutional background. I have even felt discriminated for being a veteran.

Losing my community truly obscured my identity.

My New, Blue Family

Three years ago in San Antonio, TX, I felt that identity resurge within me. Instead of a green line, I now stood on a blue line.

And yes, one might think we are Smurfs when we get together. Our sense of community (common + unity) is built during social events and service projects. We are like a lean, mean, green machine–some of us less lean and others a bit more mean, but we all come together to continue the mission. We don’t do this to just accomplish our own dreams, but so that we may help families, friends, neighborhoods and partner nonprofits realize theirs.

As Wilson said, and my dad would agree, we CAN break the barriers that divide us to ensure that things, places, and people stay united.

Now, alongside the nonprofit organization GEN2050, the Miami and Broward 1st platoons restored and rebuilt this community’s garden, a living laboratory for youth discovery and therapy.

I Went from Green to Blue, and You Can Too!

While the places and faces may change, the fact is that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. There will always be a place for you to belong, and a mission to continue.

I invite you and your family to join our Smurfy group of blue-shirt volunteers.

How I Learned to Select a Diverse Team (And Why it Matters)

August 28, 2018
By Mary Beth Bruggeman, VP of Program Strategy

At The Mission Continues, diverse teams are representative of the veterans and the community members that we serve.

Why bother to build diverse teams in the first place, and how can you do it effectively?

If you’re wondering why diverse teams matter, I’ll break it down in terms that translate to everything we (and others) do. Diverse teams — in race, gender, identity, experience, age and many other factors– are proven to make better decisions.

There is ample evidence that companies with the higher percentages of racial/ethnic diversity are more likely to have higher financial returns than companies with less diverse teams. Among other benefits, organizations that embrace diversity have employees that are more likely to feel connected to others in the workplace, which fuels collaboration and innovation.

Veterans at our 2018 Women Veteran Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.

It matters in our work at The Mission Continues, because diverse teams are representative of the veterans and the community members that we serve, along with being generally more effective decision making bodies. Continue reading “How I Learned to Select a Diverse Team (And Why it Matters)”

The Battle for (Bio)Diversity

February 23, 2018
By David Riera, Fellow Alum

Social equality – or the lack thereof — has played a deciding role in how communities identify, thrive, survive, or die. Every community — from the veteran community to the conservation community — has to actively find those voices that have been left out of the conversation, and empower them to be heard.

As I reflect on the works of African American legends like Dr. King, George Washington Carver, the Buffalo Soldiers, and other personal heroes of mine, I am prompted to be mindful where social, economic, and environmental justice for all can (and needs to) be intertwined.

Volunteering with the National Parks Conservation Association through The Mission Continues Fellowship Program catapulted me into my desired field: environmental conservation.

Now as a veteran, scientist, and conservationist, I’ve begun to think more about the social dynamics of conservation. Continue reading “The Battle for (Bio)Diversity”

This Is for the Immigrant Veterans Who Inspired My Fellowship

August 29th, 2017
By Jin Kong, Fellow

My name is Jin Kong. I am a husband and a father, an immigrant and a veteran. I am not a rarity, but one of many immigrant stories from my military days.

One friend told me he walked across the Mexico/US border with his mother at a very young age. He was deported then and later came back to the US legally. Another medic was a Southeast-Asian Buddhist who converted to Mormonism and married before our deployment. One of our infantry brothers immigrated from Argentina. He took an injury to one eye in the war while serving as a sniper. He later became a photographer and traversed Iraq while the war was still on, armed only with a camera and a local guide. Continue reading “This Is for the Immigrant Veterans Who Inspired My Fellowship”

In this Turbulent Time, This Is as Grassroots as I Can Get

June 30, 2017
By Shannon Doty, Platoon Leader

When I took over the Minneapolis 1st Platoon as Platoon Leader last summer, our future was uncertain, but my vision was not.

Shortly before I took over as the Minneapolis Platoon Leader there was a police involved shooting of a man named Philando Castile, a St. Paul resident. His death became national news when his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live streamed the aftermath on Facebook, and it was watched by thousands of people within 24 hours.  His murder sparked protests throughout the Twin Cities, and finally forced many in my home to confront the very real fact that while we are progressive in many ways, Minnesota is segregated and a very difficult place for many minorities to live.

I choose to focus my anger, confusion and frustration with a system that was once again failing so many of its citizens, on positive engagement for the future.  I wanted to focus on the long term, how to be a part of the healing of the community in any way I could.  I had the privilege to be able to choose how I approached the aftermath of the death of Philando, and I never forgot that. Continue reading “In this Turbulent Time, This Is as Grassroots as I Can Get”