A Last Salute: Reflections from the Fellowship Program

August 17, 2018

Now that our final class — Alpha 2018 — of fellows have completed their term of service, we’d like to reflect on the legacy of fellows throughout the program’s 11 years. Here are a few fellow alumni from across the country on where they are now and what the fellowship meant to their personal growth and professional leadership. Continue reading “A Last Salute: Reflections from the Fellowship Program”

In Pittsburgh, the Story of How I Made My Veteran Identity Meaningful

March 29, 2018
By Patricia Gerhauser, Platoon Leader

Patricia Gerhauser is a Navy veteran and Mission Continues rockstar. She is not only a fellowship alumna, but is supervising a current fellow, and platoon leader for the Hazelwood Platoon in Pittsburgh, Pa. Patricia was recently selected to attend this year’s Women Veterans Leadership Summit. Read her story to get to know one of our kickass attendees. Continue reading “In Pittsburgh, the Story of How I Made My Veteran Identity Meaningful”

Boeing and The Mission Continues Empower Veterans to Soar

November 3, 2017

The Mission Continues and Boeing
Flo Groberg, Boeing’s Director of Veterans Outreach giving a speech to volunteers at a Mission Continues service project.

The morning of September 9th, at East Capitol Urban Farm in Washington D.C. was EJ Delpero’s time to shine. He had prepared for this moment for over a year.

During EJ’s six-month fellowship with The Mission Continues and subsequent tenure as a service platoon leader, he was able to translate his military leadership skills into civilian contexts.

Now as a seasoned volunteer for The Mission Continues, he and his teammates stepped up to the plate this fall when they were tasked with leading the planning and execution for this year’s 9/11 Day of Service. Continue reading “Boeing and The Mission Continues Empower Veterans to Soar”

I’m a Student, Scientist, and a Warrior

March 3, 2017
By David Riera, Fellow

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Current fellow David Riera with former Governor of Florida, Bob Graham at a conference.

The Everglades National Park is my home, both figuratively and literally. As a budding ecologist, environmental educator and advocate, I fervently believe that this unique ecosystem represents more than a biological stronghold. And even though the Everglades’ luster has been tarnished by human activities, my students, peers, fellow veterans, and I still believe it is one of the crowning jewels of this planet.

As a first-generation Floridian, I grew up throughout Miami-Dade County, and moved around frequently. The only consistency in my life was the Everglades, the National Seashores of south Florida, and numerous other state and municipal parks. Whether it was snorkeling with my godfather, hiking with my father, or working with park staff on environmental projects, I knew I was a part of these natural places and that these places became a part of me.

This fascination with nature, especially in Florida, followed me through my life, as a juvenile, United States Marine, college student, researcher, and now as a teacher. I have been fortunate enough to reacquaint and re-engage with such a critical piece of myself. Continue reading “I’m a Student, Scientist, and a Warrior”

The Three Ways Student Veterans Can Succeed

Marlowe Dickerson
May 14, 2015marlowedickerson

We called it Combat Outpost 569, a bare patrol base in Iraq’s Anbar Province, but it was really home for my Marine infantry unit. The outpost had what you’d expect: stockpiles of ammunition, food rations and torn magazines from back home.

One thing stuck out, though: a math book to practice algebra between missions.

I was eager to begin a new life as a student after four years and three deployments. My buddies and I spoke eagerly about plans for our education at COP 569, and how school would be a welcome change after spending our early twenties at war.

I enrolled at Santa Monica College in spring 2008 and signed up for 18 units. Linda Sinclair, the veterans counselor on staff, warned me that I might overburden myself, and that it might be wise to consider a lighter course load while I readjusted to civilian life.

I laughed off her warnings and assured her that a hard-charging Marine like me could easily handle a few college classes.

Within a week, Ms. Sinclair’s words were echoing in my ear. I found myself overwhelmed by the throngs of students moving about the campus. I also found myself irrationally angry at my fellow students for perceived disrespect, like talking in class, arriving late.

I skipped classes, with these slights as an excuse to avoid fellow students. By the time the semester ended, I had failed one course and withdrawn from two others. I found myself in Ms. Sinclair’s office at the end of the semester sobbing and disappointed in myself.

Ms. Sinclair reassured me that I could correct my path. She also connected me with resources, like the post-deployment program at the local VA. But I failed to follow up.

Within a year, I was divorced and unemployed. I struggled to reconcile the fact that as a Marine, I had led patrols and was given great responsibility, but I could not even finish a full semester. The dream born at COP 569 would have to wait a while longer.

I began to realize that I had never made a connection to the campus or to any of my fellow students. I would arrive on campus with my earbuds in my ears for the sole purpose of avoiding contact or conversation with other students. I didn’t know other students well enough to study with them or ask for help if I missed class. I let my discomfort prevent me from utilizing all of the resources that were available to me.

Luckily I found a way to focus on success. Five years ago, I started work at the Hollywood Veteran Center, where I served fellow veterans by guiding them to resources. More importantly, I was a peer who would listen and understand their challenges.

I met a veteran and social worker named Jim Zenner. Mr. Zenner encouraged me to return to my studies so that I could better serve my fellow veterans when it was my turn to be the strength of others.

Mr. Zenner put me on a glide path by stressing three components to my education.

First, he suggested I connect with other students in a meaningful way. I built bonds and friendships with student veterans, and after a while, I looked forward to school knowing that I would get some good “smoking and joking” time with my vet buddies after class. We’d often talk for hours about how far we’ve come, and how far we’d go, just like at COP 569. But I also made an effort to befriend nonveterans so I could be comfortable with anyone I sat next to in class.

Second, there are resources for the taking, Mr. Zenner explained, that I could utilize when I needed help. I took advantage of the office of student services and the disability resource center, which helped me focus on my studies.

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Lastly, I had to work on myself. Luckily I had my newborn son to motivate me. He taught me that life happens even when you’re in school, so not achieving perfection in everything was not the end of the world.

With these tools in hand, I was ready to move on to a four-year school, and Arizona State University accepted me the following January to finish my degree. I signed up for a huge course load and felt confident I had the tools to finish the objective. The resources available helped strengthen my studies, and I found refuge with other student veterans when it got challenging.

When I began practicing self-care, connected to resources and my classmates, life got easier. Negative self-talk became transformed into quiet affirmations whispered during exams. Withdrawals and failing grades turned into As.

I worked through seven years of doubt and hardship, and it paid off–I graduated this week with honors with a degree in public policy.

Now I plan to attend graduate school and earn my master’s degree in public administration. And I can make it happen now that I have a plan that works.

I don’t know if Combat Outpost 569 is still around, but education and successful lives after the war are no longer a distant dream. We’re living it now.

Marlowe Dickerson is a Marine Corps veteran and a 2015 Alpha Class Fellow. He serves at Volunteers of America in Los Angeles, where he provides veterans, service members and their families with resources and support necessary for successful reintegration to civilian life.

Interested in serving again, and putting your education to practical use through a Mission Continues Fellowship? Learn more here. 

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Service Member to Student: Breaking Down the Barriers

August 29, 2014
Chris Merkle

Chris Merkle is United States Marine Corps veteran and Mission Continues Fellow. In this post, he reflects on how engaging in campus activities enriched his life as a student veteran.

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I enlisted in the military when I was 17-years old. I served for 14 years in the Marine Corps, two years in the Army Reserve and spent an additional five to six years overseas security contracting. To say I was “still institutionalized” when I got out of the military is an understatement.

Continue reading “Service Member to Student: Breaking Down the Barriers”

Service Member to Student: How I Learned to Love Life on Campus

August 27, 2014
Kristina Catuiza

Upon enrolling into college, being an active duty service member in the U.S. Navy was the only lifestyle I knew. I found comfort in that way of living. The men and women I served with weren’t just coworkers. They were family. We had built such strong camaraderie. We supported and confided in one another.

After my contract was up, transitioning from military to civilian life wasn’t an easy journey. I tried to fit in at a community college where most of the population was about twenty years old. I couldn’t relate to the people around me and I felt lost in a new city where I had no family or friends to turn to for advice or support.

My first semester at Santa Monica College in Los Angeles was a challenge for me. My grades didn’t suffer, but I had anxiety. My car became the place I spent breaks, had lunch and studied. I became anti-social and secluded myself from anything that was outside my comfort zone.

Kristina SVA

It wasn’t until I found the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) and joined the Student Veterans Association (SVA) on campus that I began to feel more comfortable on campus. Spending time with like-minded individuals allowed me to open up more and venture outside my norms. Being part of the Veterans Association made me feel welcomed and happy, especially because I finally had friends in the Los Angeles area I could relate to.

I enjoyed being around other veterans. I became more involved in the SVA and with the VRC. I began to volunteer for events and felt so proud when the focus was on veterans. I loved hearing other veterans stories and took pleasure in the fact that some would come to me for advice. As I realized my passion for veterans, I started looking into organizations outside of school.

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I joined the American Legion, Team RWB and The Mission Continues. The Mission Continues Los Angeles Service Platoon gave me a chance to work hand in hand with other veterans and give back to the L.A. community. I was able to continue to serve and make a difference even though I was no longer in the military.

This was the drive I was looking for. When it came to selecting a new major, it wasn’t a hard decision. I realized working with other veterans and making them feel comfortable came natural to me. I had a special connection with them. I could relate to them. I decided to pursue a career empowering veterans. I have a better understanding of their struggles and their desires. I wanted to listen and give advice to them on a professional level. I want to help them the way the counselors and social workers at the VA helped me. I truly believe working with veterans is what I was born to do.

Kristina Graduation

I recently earned my associate’s degree from Santa Monica College. My focus now is to earn my bachelor’s degree in psychology from Loyola Marymount University. It feels so right. I love the fact that I can relate stories I’ve heard or people I’ve met to the lessons I learn in class.

Not every student veteran has trouble with the transition into college life; some want nothing to do with the fact they were in the military. I believe they are missing out on some great opportunities that could change their life and impact their career. They might even be missing out on that passion they never knew existed within them.

I never knew I wanted a career working with veterans or giving back to my community. In fact, I first came to college majoring in dental hygiene.  I changed course after volunteering with the veteran community. I found a passion and drive I had never felt before. I truly enjoy what I’m doing – to the point where it doesn’t feel like work at all.

If I hadn’t taken advantage of the resources available to me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I can say in all honestly, I am enjoying my life as a student veteran.

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A Message to Student Veterans: Never Stop Serving

August 25, 2014
Barry Mattson

Barry Mattson is a veteran of the US Air Force and the US Army, with a combat deployment to Iraq in each service. He is now the Regional Director at The Mission Continues, Houston office, where his passion for fighting poverty is matched with his appreciation for veterans.

In this post, Barry answers the question “How can our nation ensure that veterans don’t need to return to the military in order to find a meaningful sense of purpose?” Continue reading “A Message to Student Veterans: Never Stop Serving”