The terrorist attacks of 9/11 affected all of us in one way or another. For some, it meant deployment. For others, it meant the loss of a loved one and a charred city. And for all Americans, it meant a shaken country and the dawn of a new era.
“I remember the day well, as most Americans do,” says Melissa Shipley, a longtime volunteer with The Mission Continues. “I remember turning on the television and being in complete shock. I felt so many different emotions–anger, fear, sadness.”
But it wasn’t until she started getting involved with veteran service organizations like The Mission Continues that she met veterans who had actually deployed because of it.
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”
When people ask me why I joined the Army, I usually talk about my desire to serve, wanting to challenge myself, and the satisfaction and pride that I feel being able to help my soldiers learn new skills and develop as leaders. I could gush for hours about happy I am that I signed on the dotted line at 17 years old.
It would all be true, but it wasn’t why I joined. I usually leave out the less glamorous reality – I would likely never have served if it hadn’t meant free college through my ROTC scholarship.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago as the eldest child of a single mother. I attended a large public high school, spent hours every day commuting on the bus and subway, failed multiple classes, pawned 35 cents off my friends daily so that I could buy reduced-price lunch, and never intended to pursue education beyond a high school diploma – if I even made it that far.
I was mostly concerned that if I applied and was accepted into a university, I would never be able to pay for it. Parental assistance wasn’t a reality, and for a long time I let the fear of disappointment prevent me from considering that route.
All of that changed when I stumbled on the Army’s website. Free college and a commission as an officer? I was sold.
By some incredible stroke of luck, I made the cut. That unusual success changed my entire attitude toward my life. I suddenly had people telling me (as wrong as I was sure they were) that I could be a leader—that I had the ability to take care of and to inspire others.
From my first terrible APFT, at which all of the older cadets circled back and ran an extra two laps to finish with me, to graduating with the top GPA in my ROTC Battalion and being trusted to take over my own platoon, I found myself in an echo chamber of support.
Through the military, I learned about brotherhood and the importance of building up the people around you.
I have done my best to take that lesson with me from Chicago to Pittsburgh, to Missouri, and most recently, here to Los Angeles.
The Mission Continues Los Angeles 2nd Service Platoon is a volunteer group geared toward veterans, and is focused on youth development and education in Boyle Heights, a low-income neighborhood in East LA. When I took over as platoon leader in 2015 we were almost brand new. We had a few dedicated volunteers, but not many. We didn’t have an operation.
Two years later I barely recognize the platoon I stepped into. Now we have strong connections with several schools and organizations in Boyle Heights and have completed countless service projects both with and for the students. People reach out to the platoon when they need help – we rarely have to look hard for new projects or opportunities to serve the community.
When I look at the students in Boyle Heights, I see myself. I see kids who have the drive and ability to make it, but who might not yet have the confidence or the resources to try. I know they can get there.
I’ve taught a group of teenage girls how to use a drill, and saw the way their faces lit up when they were able to build a bench completely by themselves. I’ve negotiated with parents in terrible Spanish to be able to give their kids a ride to an LA Galaxy game to thank them for helping us revitalize their school campus. I’ve talked to students about college and shared my own experiences with them. I’ve spent 12 hours getting sunburned while waiting on Home Depot deliveries. I’ve painted murals. I’ve put volunteers and kids in charge of things when they weren’t sure they knew how, and watched them crush it.
The military helped me push myself past the limits I had set for myself at a time when I needed it the most. In the same way that my mentors did, I hope that I can look these next generations in the eye and tell them, genuinely, “you can change the world.”
I serve and will continue to serve for all of them.
I was in the fifth grade when I saw the terrorist attacks of 9/11 unfold on television. Though I was only a child, the day left me with a strong desire to defend my country. The call to serve rang even louder as I grew up listening to my granddad and uncle telling stories of their time at war. I answered the call when I joined the United States Army at the age of 20, and deployed to Afghanistan soon thereafter. It was time for me to live my own war stories.
As an infantryman I trained the Afghanistan Uniformed Police to make the roads safe for civilian travel.I was proud of the work I did to support my team. Though I was grateful that we all got home in one piece, the person who came home in 2015 stood in stark contrast to the one who enlisted in 2012. The smallest things incensed me. So I drank and told myself things would be better in a couple months. A couple months came and went. I was still drunk and still mad.
Seeing the effect this had on those I loved made me come to terms with post-traumatic stress and seek help through the PTSD Foundation of America. After I navigated my own challenges, I knew it was time for me to forge my own path forward. Luckily a friend introduced me to The Mission Continues, and just like that, it was time to find my sense of purpose again.
That’s what made The Mission Continues stand out to me: they inspired me by proving I could change the world, starting in my own community.
My Mission Continues Fellowship at the PTSD Foundation of America empowers me to do exactly that in my city of San Antonio. I bring the community together by mentoring veterans and their families. After my six-month fellowship concludes, I hope to do even more to help veterans like myself navigate the challenges of PTSD.
Change happens from the ground up — and that starts with me. It’s why I enlisted in the military, and it’s why I continue to serve today. It’s also why I ask you to support veterans like me who are impacting their communities through fellowships and service platoons all over the country.
I was inspired to serve by the war stories of my uncle and grandfather. And now, with your support, my generation of veterans has its own stories to tell: stories of how we continued serving our country even after we came home.
The military isn’t the only way one can be of service to country.
The drive to serve isn’t borne by servicemembers and veterans alone; it is the flag under which veterans and civilians unite.
An integral part of our philosophy is that while continued service can play an important role in veterans’ lives, change can only happen when we join hands with the next generation of Americans: our youth. Just as we enlist veterans to serve where their community needs it most, AmeriCorps enlists young adults to do the same.
In our experience, both AmeriCorps alumni and veterans come away from their experience with a drive to continue serving. While it’s no question that the military and AmeriCorps are vastly different, there are a few notable common threads. Like the military, AmeriCorps provides young adults in their formative years a unique opportunity to shape their careers, experience comradery, grow personally, find their niche, and even find a sense of purpose. In this way, government programs like AmeriCorps are an important part of the service ecosystem in which we live.Continue reading “AmeriCorps: Another Way to Serve Your Country”
Mary Beth Bruggeman, our Executive Director for the Southeast Region, was invited to give a TEDx Talk at Georgetown University. She made a strong case explaining why it is important to bring your authentic self to work, and gave suggestions on how companies can encourage a more open culture that values a diverse workforce. In tandem, she published an article in the Huffington Post entitled, Embracing Diversity, on the Battlefield and in the Boardroom, which we are sharing here:
I was just 22 years old when I came to work one day and was told by a direct report that I was a distraction to my co-workers … because of how I smelled.
How would you react to that? What would you say?
Let me explain: At 22, I took command of a platoon of combat engineers, my first real job as a Marine Corps officer. Several months into my tenure, we were participating in a 6-week long field operation, rehearsing scenarios that would play out in real time two years later when we deployed to Iraq. Fresh off our desert “camping trip,” I had just enjoyed my first shower in a week. When I walked into the tent that served as our makeshift command post, my gunnery sergeant — a man twice my age who had earned a Bronze Star for his actions in combat during Desert Storm – pulled me aside and told me, in a troubled voice, that my smell was distracting. He then clarified: apparently, I smelled too “clean,” which was not just distracting, but actually attracting some of the young men that I led.
I was mortified. I ducked quickly behind the tent that served as our command post, pulled my hair out of the bun I was wearing, and rubbed in desert sand to mask the smell of shampoo and freshly washed hair. Angry, I wiped away my tears, ashamed that I had cried. I tied my hair back up – tighter this time – and went back to work.
It was a tipping point for me in my military service, and a moment that defined who I would eventually become. That day in the desert set me on a path of self-suppression, of subtle but steady masking of my true and authentic self, all in the name of career progression. Over my eight years on active duty, I became less empathetic, collaborative and vocal. In short, I was muting some of the very qualities I could bring to the fight, all because I believed that the only way for me to stand out as a leader was to blend in with the men around me.
I’ve told that story a number of times over the years – at the Women Veterans Leadership Summit for The Mission Continues, where I now work, and this past October at TEDx Georgetown, where I was fortunate enough to be invited to talk about my experiences with authenticity and diversity. Each time, I’m amazed at the number of women that nod their heads in solidarity. I’m even more amazed at the wide array of industries that they represent: finance, law, politics, media and more. This experience of self-suppression and loss of identity affects people of color, religious and ethnic minorities, and those who identify as LGBTQ, too. And each affected person’s story offers a unique glimpse at what we’re missing when we talk about diversity, and the untapped power it represents for leaders of organizations around the world.
Oftentimes, diversity conversations focus on the numbers: our organizations take pledges, set and publicize goals and assign quotas. But while numbers are important, they don’t tell the whole story about what it takes to build the kind of place and space where people can be their authentic selves. Because only when we have the courage and support to be our best and our most-real selves can we truly reap the benefits of the unique talent and perspectives those diverse numbers represent.
Talking about diversity and inclusion is uncomfortable, sometimes awkward, and often emotionally charged. But, in today’s political and cultural climate, I believe it is more important now than ever to think critically about the gap that exists between diversity and authenticity.
And make no mistake, bridging that gap is a mutual responsibility that falls both to our organizations and to each of us as individuals.
I’m proud to say that in the years since my experience after that field exercise in the dusty desert, I’ve seen progress: Today’s U.S. military is more diverse by the numbers than ever before. With that comes the challenge and opportunity of working together and embracing difference to achieve a united mission in the context of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious setting. It’s valuable experience that veterans like myself carry with us when we head out to work again to make a difference in the civilian world.
For me, as a person offering one diverse perspective, bridging that gap to authenticity also came down to a change in mindset that can help leaders and individuals in organizations of all kinds maximize the potential of their team members:
Be aware of the subtle signs of self-suppression in yourself and others, like holding back from voicing your opinion, or closing off pieces of the real you in order to fit in.
Be committed to real and appreciable change. Know the truth – that every organization needs diversity and authenticity to not just survive, but in today’s global economy, to thrive.
Be bold. Know who you are and have the courage to let that person shine through. Make a habit of self-reflection – where are you excelling, and where can you grow? Do your instincts guide you at work? If so, follow them!
Be an advocate for looking at diversity and inclusion from a wider lens: “Diversity of thought”, not just the traditional emphasis on demographics.
Make it known that challenging the status quo is not only accepted, but expected. At a recent conference, I heard a panelist say: “we should never be so excited to be sitting at the table that we forget to be disruptive.” That’s a mindset that I, as a leader, embrace.
Let’s commit, together, to creating a new reality. A reality where diversity is so much more than a quota, and where the true potential of our organizations is reached only when our best and brightest people are allowed to shine and prosper.
You’d be wrong if you thought the story of the protest at Standing Rock in North Dakota simply ended with its victory. The story continues, with plans for the future, and with reflection on what this experience meant to those who participated. As a veteran service organization, we discuss veterans in their unity and diversity, and the many facets of what it means to be a veteran in today’s world. The movement at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation was large, complex, and is far from over. While many civilians felt it was their civic duty to stand for their beliefs, this movement struck a chord for many veterans as well. But, some might be wondering: why?Continue reading “Veterans Stand for Standing Rock: “We Will Never Stop Protecting””
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.
Have you ever noticed hammers, power drills, and hard hats with sprayed blue paint at some of our projects? Well, if you have, you’ve seen firsthand the remarkable work of ToolBank USA. ToolBank’s nonprofits lend a wide variety of tools to groups who want to accomplish a project to benefit their community, at heavily discounted costs.
As you may know, we are a nonprofit that prides itself on forging partnerships with other nonprofits on both national and local levels. In our central Fellowship Program, each Fellow we place at a host site organization is an obvious example of this, and more examples can be found by looking at the nonprofits our platoons work with to paint classrooms, build playgrounds, and more. But we have a relationship with a nonprofit that is so mobile and so essential that we felt it deserves its own blog post. Continue reading “The Blue that Binds: Why We Love ToolBank USA”