Bravo Class 2016 Answers the Call of Service

April 27, 2016

Platoon leaders, fellows, and Mission Continues staff complete a service project at Rainier Beach High School

This past weekend, our Bravo Class of 2016 mobilized in Seattle, Washington for their Mission Continues orientation. This class is 81 Fellows and 16 platoon leaders strong. The fellows will be serving at a diverse set of nonprofits, from The National Parks Conservation Association of Miami, Florida to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Atlanta. Our platoon leaders will be stationed from Nashville to Jacksonville to Portland, Oregon, and tackle issues including childhood hunger and public lands conservation.

Bravo Class of 2014 alum Mark Coffin provided welcoming remarks and talked about his experience as a fellow. We’d like to share his story and words of wisdom here.

When I went to my fellowship orientation there was a mix of excitement and anticipation and maybe even a little bit of nervousness, but I can tell you that throughout that event, meeting everyone, working together, and preparing to return to our respective non-profits was a great experience.

I believe in the mission of this organization, the way it opens up opportunities for veterans, and how it lets them to choose to do something you have a passion for, and get to actually do it.

My parents and grandparents were hardworking folk who sought not only to improve the lives of their family, but also help others around them. Whether that was cooking meals for the sick and shut in, volunteering at their church, to sharing their crops with those in need. I saw their example for years, and it inspired me to serve others, as well as my Christian faith.

I attended a small liberal arts university called Elon in North Carolina. After two years I ran out of money to pay for school, but was able to get a two year Army ROTC scholarship to finish my college education. Toward the end of college, I had to choose how I fulfill my military obligation. I could apply for active duty, reserves or National Guard.

At the time I had no true idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be, no resumes written, no job prospects, so I thought, let’s go active duty – I can do my four years of active service on my head and then get out and finish in the reserves and move on with my life. But life sometimes has a funny way of making other plans.

Alumni speaker Mark Coffin addresses Bravo Class 2016

I served in a variety of positions with various responsibilities throughout my career.  My first assignment was in South Korea as a Platoon Leader running three remote intelligence monitoring sites along the DMZ. Before long I had completed my four years, and I found myself enjoying the travel and jobs and had no desire to get out.

So I continued. I went through a variety of staff assignments at the company, battalion, division and corp, and even got to command in a Special Forces group. I deployed overseas and did tours in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but my absolutely best assignment ever with the Army is when I got to break and enter legally around the around the world for 3 years with the Army Red Team.  

Next thing you know, I have 20 years of military service.  Never ever thought I would have done that! So when I hit 27 years, I was good to go. I decided to retire. Time to do something different, time for a change.

As I prepared to exit from the military, I found the most challenging part to be “what next”?  I was proud to have served my country and my desire was to continue some form of that service in the local community.

I started volunteering regularly for Habitat for Humanity, and one day the staff asked me if I had ever heard of The Mission Continues. I hadn’t, so I checked out the organization, and saw the Mission Continues Fellowship as a wonderful opportunity to pursue my passion.

During my fellowship, I served on the construction and rehab division of Habitat and I was also asked to be the Veteran Outreach Coordinator in an effort to bring more veterans from the community out to serve, as well as making those veterans aware of the services that Habitat had to offer them through their homeownership and home repair programs.

Through my fellowship experience, I learned land acquisition and development, family selection and training, volunteer management and coordination, public outreach and engagement, as well as on site construction and rehabbing of homes.

Mark Coffin at the service project for Rainier Beach High School
Mark Coffin at the service project for Rainier Beach High School

I chose to continue on the path of service after my fellowship, not only with Habitat, but also with several other non-profits. I represent The Mission Continues in Omaha at military career fairs, I work with the State Foodbank to help feed kids who are food insecure, and I deploy with Team Rubicon to conduct disaster assistance across the nation.

This fellowship facilitates your journey to find out who you are, what you want to do, who you want to be, what mark you want to make in this world. You all as fellows are the movers and shakers, and you are the ones who can effect positive change.

Don’t think everything will change overnight. It is a process that you will go through. Some of it may seem daunting and overwhelming. You might not be able to see your destination from where you are now, but you are embarking on a journey of discovery personally, socially and professionally.

So jump in head first. This is your chance to develop new contacts, build your network, ask questions, empower yourself, and refine and learn new skills. Really use your monthly fellowship assignments as a means to develop your goals and objectives, and most of all, enjoy yourself! What greater thing is there than to be able to work in an area that you are passionate about?

I will end with this quote from Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Report for duty in your community with The Mission Continues. Serve with a Service Platoon at an upcoming service event near you or apply for a fellowship. You can learn more about our programs on our website and stay updated on the latest news and announcements on Facebook and twitter.

Keeping an Open Mind

March 7, 2016
By Tonya Cook

I knew there was more to life than what my small town had to offer. I wanted to see things I read about in school books and escape the small town mentality of being trapped as a product of my environment. I thought college could be my way out, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me. So I joined the Navy, and eventually retired with 20 years of Service.

When I separated from the military in 2013, I found the most challenging part was identifying and finding my purpose again. My only child had just graduated from high school, so I felt my purpose of being a needed mother was gone. I was going through a divorce, so I felt my purpose of being a wife was now gone as well. I was empty and depressed.

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Alpha Class 2016 Reports for Duty

February 11, 2016
By Nick Zevely

Alpha2016Alpha Class and volunteers at their service project on Saturday, January 30th.

The Mission Continues welcomed the newest class of Fellows and Service Platoon Leaders to the team with a three-day orientation in Atlanta from January 29 to 31. Orientations are an intense three days of learning, networking and service ensuring Fellows and Service Platoon Leaders are equipped with the resources they need to make an impact in their community.

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Delta Class 2015 Moves Out to Serve Their Communities

October 23, 2015

deltaclass(1)

This past weekend, 126 veterans converged in Dallas-Ft. Worth for our last orientation class of the year, beginning their six month fellowships or taking on leadership roles in our service platoons. Delta Class 2015 assembled for workshops, invigorating talks, breakout sessions. They learned about what they can expect during their volunteer service, how to tell their story–and in between, had plenty of time to meet like-minded leaders who pledged to serve their communities.

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Built from the Ground Up

July 20, 2015

By Mark Oravsky

It’s a difficult thing to leave an Army career after 14 years, with a difficult tour to Afghanistan as an endnote.

We lost a lot of great people early on. That much time away from family led to my decision to pack it in and transition out of the military. But nothing could prepare me for the road ahead.

Prior to hitting the streets, I finished an emergency medical technician course and enrolled in my first semester of college. I finished strong in my first semester, but halfway through the second I felt disconnected, unsupported and without real purpose. Like I was lost at sea without a life preserver.

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How “Honor, Courage, Commitment” Became More Than Just Words

July 10, 2015

by Tamara Geyer

Leatherneck FECC
The author, top right, in Afghanistan.

“Honor. Courage. Commitment.” Say those three words and any Marine will tell you exactly what they mean. They may still have their red card emblazoned with these words from boot camp in their wallet.

For me, those words took on a different meaning during my eight years in the Corps.

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From Vietnam to Iraq: Continuing My Father’s Legacy of Service

For all the time my dad Robert Lee Coleman spent in the jungles of Vietnam as an Army infantryman, I rarely heard about it. Even Memorial and Veterans Day were not enough to get him talking.

So I took what I could get when he decided to open up. Some nights he’d sit by the window in the middle of the night as if he was keeping watch. He was always smoking a cigarette and staring intently at what appeared to be nothing. He spoke softly, much softer than his normally confident voice.

He rarely told stories, except on those rare nights when I would wake up and sit with him while he stared out the window, and I’d ask him what he was thinking.

Nia Coleman with her father, Robert Lee Coleman.

With a far off look, that appeared to see miles away, he would offer little glimpses of his story. Sometimes he couldn’t finish. Sometimes he would trail off and be quiet, forgetting I was even there. In those rare moments I saw my dad for who he was, a strong man, a veteran with a story full of pride and grief.

Though I had other family members who were veterans, my father was the one who made it something identifiable and personal, who carried with him the price of war, and defined what that sacrifice truly means. He struggled with issues that were sometimes not recognized, mostly not diagnosed, and greatly left untreated. My dad was a strong man who beat impossible odds throughout his life.

I don’t know everything about what he had to endure, other than a few stories we were able to extract from him. I know he was awarded the Bronze Star. At the end of his draft commitment, he voluntarily extended for six extra months to fight alongside his brothers in arms.

When I got older, I began to comprehend what he truly went through and how he fought not only his battle at war, but also many inner battles at home. Like many other Vietnam veterans, he was a hero who did not expect anything in return. Instead of seeking any recognition, he went home quietly and tried to fall back into civilian life as if nothing ever happened.

My father passed away the night before Father’s Day weekend on June 15, 1995.

Five years after his passing, with few options, I was trying to figure out my future. At the time my brother had completed a successful enlistment in the Navy and I thought of following a similar path. I felt a desire to make something of myself and I also secretly felt it could give me a connection to my dad.

I enlisted in the peacetime Army to serve in military intelligence. The world was different then. Our trainers said we’d likely wear business suits to work instead of military fatigues.

Then September 11 changed the intelligence community forever. I deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

Nia Coleman during her first tour in Iraq.
Nia Coleman during her first tour in Iraq.

On my first Iraq tour in 2003, I was attached to an infantry unit patrolling the streets of Mosul, riding along on raids and patrols.

I gathered human intelligence on missions to stay ahead of the enemy. At one time I was one of three women on a base—luckily the battalion commander recognized what I offered to the mission and made sure we integrated with men.

It was tough to imagine what my father did in Vietnam, but working closely with the infantry, I discovered newfound appreciation for his challenges. Today’s soldiers have unprecedented technology and information to help on the battlefield, but when facing off against the enemy, my dad had little except a rifle and the will to protect the men around him. Even still, the men I served alongside experienced great adversity. I could see why it affected my father so much.

Now that I left the Army and serve in a fellowship at The Mission Continues, I want to keep my father’s spirit of service alive. I work at The Next Chapter, which helps veterans and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault find their footing for their next phase in life.

My father’s experience and challenges made me realize a vital lesson for my life: even the strong and the capable need help. And I want to give it.

Nia Coleman served in Army military intelligence. She deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and is an Alpha 2015 Fellow at The Mission Continues.

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