I loved being a soldier and I am proud to be a transgender person. No one deserves to endure what I did.
I had the desire to join the Army as a result of two driving forces. The first, my grandfather was a disabled World War II Veteran who fell madly in love with my grandmother, an Army nurse who treated his wounds. As you can tell by that quick anecdote, military service was deeply rooted into my family’s framework.
The second motive to enlist was that I desperately needed to feel a connection to something. I needed some sense of belonging. I needed a community. My childhood was fairly grim and clouded. Being transgender but not being able to identify my feelings to an actual concept caused me to have crippling social anxiety and overwhelming sorrow.
I isolated myself, and fell into a deep, daunting, depression. It was as if I was drowning.
I needed to belong to a group and contribute to a cause larger than myself. I had no time to waste–I left home for the United States Army at the age of 17, a few days after my high school graduation.
By Mohan Sivaloganathan, Northeast Executive Director
You don’t have to be world-famous to make an impact – you just have to dedicate the time, energy, and effort to work with your community from the ground-up and lead by example.
Derrick Clark, Navy Veteran and The Mission Continues Platoon Leader
For generations, our veterans have inspired people to affect positive change. Here in New York – a city that prides itself in coming together to advance the greater good – our veterans are continuing to step up on behalf of children and families.
From promoting healthy lifestyles to developing youth leadership to creating safe recreation spaces, veterans who serve with The Mission Continues are reclaiming a sense of purpose and gaining recognition as one of the city’s most vital levers for social impact.
As we look forward to 2019, we see that we’ve reached a tipping point for our work in New York City. In the coming year, we will activate more veterans than ever and truly position veterans at the forefront of the city’s service movement.
“I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” -Malala Yousafzai
Across the country, our women veterans have been raising their voices through service on behalf of children, families, and neighborhoods in need. They’ve helped youth to learn about healthy eating, caregivers to open pathways to economic success, and communities to rally around safe and uplifting public spaces.
The #HerMission campaign is our effort to not only recognize those successes and the incredible women who fuel The Mission Continues, but also to unify and catalyze a diverse group of women veterans who will shape our future.
It began last year in Pittsburgh, where the Hazelwood Platoon created the very first #HerMission project, with over 50 women veterans, family members, staff, and residents of the Hazelwood community helped renovate the library at Center of Life community empowerment organization.
This past weekend, nearly 150 women in Boston, Lowell, Pittsburgh, New York City, Newark, and central Florida came together to collectively raise their voices, and their call to act will reverberate for generations.
People say that in the days that followed, an overwhelming sense of appreciation and love emanated throughout New York. Last Saturday, for the 16th anniversary of 9/11, we brought that feeling to Ellis Island, where we helped preserve a piece of our nation’s history for future generations.
Ellis Island teaches many of us about our heritage — how many of our ancestors came to this country, and what they overcame to make a better life for themselves and their children. For many, it is an enduring symbol of the American Dream and acceptance.
On Earth Day, TV personality and veteran advocate Jon Stewart joined Mission Continues volunteers to help restore the Bronx Forest. We worked with Bronx River Alliance, New York City Parks, and community volunteers to remove invasive species, add reinforcements to native species, blaze a new path in the Bronx Forest, and clean the Bronx River.
Jon Stewart welcomed the crowd of volunteers, saying, “Our country – our world – has so many problems, veterans and first responders are solutions waiting to happen. When we can combine veterans and first responders to our problems, we can do anything.”
It was heartening to see veterans from across New York City gather to protect the Bronx Forest’s natural landscape. This service project was one of many led by The Mission Continues where veterans mobilized together to solve challenges specific to their communities. In the Bronx, The Mission Continues’ local New York 2nd Service Platoon is committed to neighborhood beautification and arts development.
Although the persona I’d originally envisioned for myself evolved and took different forms – be it a masked vigilante, a gallant cowboy, a fearless detective – my vision was unwavering: I wanted to save the world.
I finally settled on my hero of choice upon watching the opening credits to A Few Good Men when I was nine years old. One glimpse of the Marine Corps’ dress blues was all I needed to know that it was the uniform I was destined to wear.
As an artist supporting The Mission Continues Service Learning Project series with Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School in Harlem, I learned as much about service from the students as much as they’ve learned from me. I volunteered and led three classes of 6th grade students to create a mural through their own visual and literary submissions. Continue reading “Inspiring Service through Art”
Our nation’s national parks were originally protected by the military, and for the past few months, The Mission Continues New York 3rd Platoon has continued to do just that. The platoon has sustained involvement with the largest national park in New York, Gateway National Recreation Area, which is home to both wildlife and historic forts.
Together, they have protected New York Harbor for over 200 years. Today, they remain among the oldest military installations in the country. To preserve this rich history, platoon members have worked over the past few months to rehabilitate a nature and history trail within the park. This trail, which has not been open to the public for decades, can now be used in educational tours that are the backbone of interpretation at the park. As the summer tourist season is about to begin, the opening of this trail could not have come at a better time.
When I left the United States Marine Corps as a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom it took me time to navigate the civilian landscape, but I eventually obtained degrees from Northwestern University and Columbia University. However, graduating at the height of the economic downturn was less than fortuitous.