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.
This past week Platoon Leaders and Team Leaders gathered in Philadelphia for our annual Platoon Leader Summit. Over the weekend they learned skills from experts and each other that will help them create kickass service events, build relationships in their communities, and cultivate a thriving platoon.
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.
It was Cinco De Mayo, my first platoon social event. I had just taken on the role of Platoon Leader, creating the 2nd platoon in Orlando FL, and was trying to figure out how it could best help the community.
As it turned out, we had bought too much food for everyone to eat that night. Throwing out the food would be a complete waste — all leftover food could easily feed 30 people! After a few internet searches we found a women’s shelter in the Orlando downtown area that accepted food donations. So I packed up the food and took it to the shelter.
In 1972, the American Institute for Public Service created the Jefferson Awards to recognize ordinary people who do extraordinary things for our country. Founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Jefferson Awards have become one of the most prestigious organizations dedicated to celebrating public service. Oprah Winfrey, Cory Booker, Ruth Bader Ginsburg are just some of the past honorees.
The Mission Continues had the honor this Veterans Day to march in America’s Parade alongside members of the New York State Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Guard.
The Bronx Service Platoon kicked off the morning with a neighborhood beautification project. In just three hours, veterans and community volunteers prepared a garden for the winter, created mosaics, enhanced over 20 tree pits, and removed and relocated over 2.5 tons of stone.
Meanwhile, 1st Platoon New York joined thousands of veterans in the annual Veterans Day Parade.
“I’m delighted to see that there are organizations like The Mission Continues that really provide a path and opportunity for veterans, especially this newer generation of veterans to really giveback to our communities,” said Jamal Othman, deputy director at the New York State Department of Veterans Affairs. “As veterans we joined the military because we wanted to give back to something larger than ourselves.”
Veterans Day has come and gone. The parade and the project served as an opportunity to inform New York City as well as the rest of the country that this generation of veterans is leaving the military and finding new ways to serve. It’s vital that the nation understands this all year round, and not just on November 11 every year. Our commitment and service is ongoing.