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.
April 22, 2018 By David Riera, Mission Continues volunteer
My experience in war-torn Iraq makes me reflect that the land under my feet this very moment in Miami is also embattled, and this time the mission to help it belongs to all of us.
When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I had a collection of over 40 MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) Tabasco sauce bottles filled with sand from every place I was deployed in Iraq. They reminded me of my bond to the places I would sooner forget.
As the CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter flew us to secure our first target in Iraq, I saw the landscape cracked and cratered. The sand was piled high to create 10-foot defensive burms. The lakes and streams were poisoned, littered with rotting carcasses. In that moment the price of conflict was grafted onto me.
That’s when I knew scorched earth operations did not just change the land – it changed me too. It was not just about the loss of human life on all sides. It was also about trying to survive in a place where our missions violated the environment every day.
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.
The Miami 1st Service Platoon welcomed over 100 new fellows and platoon leaders with open arms on Friday, January 26th. The purpose? To convene for a weekend of learning, connecting, and preparing for their new mission.
To show these newcomers what we’re made of, the weekend kicked off on Saturday with a Mission Continues must-have: a service project.
New Fellows Get Five Pieces of Advice
Veteran Derek Auguste spoke to the incoming class of fellows, leaving them with five pieces of advice as they begin their journey. Listen to his full speech below.
I feel this is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention.
After you transition out of the military and into civilian life, you might be coming back to a family that’s been living without you for a while. It’s not just you that’s “transitioning” — it’s your family too. That transition is tough. It was for me. It was for my wife and kids.
Feeling Like an Outsider
I taught my children that celebrating birthdays and holidays were not as important as the time we had together overall. This philosophy was meant to protect them from being disappointed if I was unable to be home for such special occasions. I thought I was protecting them. But really, I was protecting myself from feeling guilty. Continue reading “How a Veteran and His Family Transitioned Together”
In honor of Veterans Day, Miami’s 1st Service Platoon returned to Everglades National Park, which sustained damage during Hurricane Irma. While there was much to be done, they focused their efforts where it was needed most.
The park’s 3-in-1 Trail had been rendered unusable due to downed trees and other debris. This half-mile trail is most popular among school groups because it takes them through three different habitats that can be found in the park.
Mission Continues volunteers spent the afternoon clearing the trail of branches and brush — completing in under one day what it would have taken the park much longer to do with fewer people.
This project was apt because the operational focus of the Miami’s 1st Service Platoon is environmental stewardship. To that end, the platoon partners with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to help alleviate some of the needs in Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park.
Jacqueline Crucet of NPCA explains the significance of the weekend’s project and the partnership overall. “Veterans stepped up when we needed them to defend our country, and national parks are there for them when they return, to help provide them solace.”
For this reason, she continues, “connecting our heroes to our shared heritage is really meaningful for our NPCA and National Park Service staff.”
Jacqueline explains how parks benefit from this relationship. “Parks need maintenance and protection, and our work with The Mission Continues has helped address the nearly 12 billion dollars of deferred maintenance backlog within the National Park Service. When veterans are enjoying their parks in service they form their own individual connection to that public space. Preserving our nation’s parks for tomorrow ties us all together. Together, we make sure parks are in pristine condition for the next generation.”
“I like to call it national parks and service.”
Another important aspect of protecting the parks is fostering new advocates for them. Matthew Tanner, City Impact Manager for The Mission Continues told us, “We have now had three Miami platoon members fly to Washington, D.C. over the past two years to speak with congress. This year, one of our members met with Secretary Zinke, himself a veteran, to discuss the importance of protecting and preserving our national parks for veterans and for all of us.”
Jacqueline praises The Mission Continues volunteers for speaking, as veterans, about the value of national parks. “Through lending your voice to NPS issues, you’ve certainly helped raise awareness among the veteran community, civilian community, and elected officials of the importance of the national parks to all.”
In January The Mission Continues will be hosting our Alpha Orientation for new fellows and platoon leaders in Miami, where we will gather for a large service project, so stay tuned!
October 5, 2017 By David Riera, Platoon Member & 2016 Fellow
Irma took three days to show up at my door in Miami. As a member of the Miami 1st Platoon, we responded in the same way the team in Houston did to Hurricane Harvey. The feeling was intense to say the least, but very focused and organized. I felt a surging calmness as I prepared for the worst.
Over three days our team purchased supplies using our own resources, and executed the lockdown of nearly 25 homes (not counting our own). This included everything from hanging steel window shutters, bolting down plywood sheets, and slamming down sandbags.
After Hurricane Irma struck the southeast, many communities rallied together to help each other.
Our platoons in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville were no exception. They stepped up to help neighbors and community members recover from Hurricane Irma.
In Miami, the platoon mobilized to help the elderly, fellow platoon members, and veterans in the area with cutting downed trees in yards and debris removal. The Platoon is used online group chats and Facebook group to spread the word that members were looking to help out. Our City Impact Manager, Mateo and PLs in Miami and Broward got in contact with United Way – Mission United, Neighbors for Neighbors, Wounded Warrior Project, Team Rubicon, and the Red Cross to assist with additional recovery efforts. Continue reading “An Update On Our Response to Hurricane Irma”
Capitol Hill is like a Roman Colosseum, complete with all the ornate statues, marble surfaces and fountains. Both attract the affluent and impoverished alike, the streets filled with merchants, guards, and citizens waiting to attend the “games.” Who would have ever thought I would find myself participating in these great political games?
I traveled to Washington D.C. with the National Parks Conservation Association to ask Congress to protect our public lands. I visited their home office, a two floor hub filled with everything an environmentalist and champion for the parks could ever hope to have in order to prepare for the lengthy battles ahead. Continue reading “I Became a Gladiator for the Environment”
I joined the U.S. Army so that I could gain valuable skills and give my newborn daughter a better life. After enlisting, I soon discovered an incredible sense of purpose and realized I wanted to stay as long as I could. Mentoring young soldiers and seeing them grow brought me great pride. I still remember the days when I trained my soldiers how to parachute out of airplanes — how to make the jump, despite their fears, and trust their parachute would open.
By 2015 however, I realized that what my daughter needed most was my presence in her life. Of my eleven years of service, I had been away from home for nearly half of it, so I made the decision to hang up my uniform and return home to Miami.