We just may have what you didn’t know was missing.
By Sean Tyler, volunteer
One of the biggest challenges in my life was leaving the U.S. Army after over 15 years of service as an enlisted Infantryman and a commissioned Medical Service Corps Officer.
I medically retired in December of 2013, and for lack of better words, I was not prepared. In 2012 I was diagnosed with PTSD and had significant damage to both my hip and back; I received a total hip replacement that same year. My last two years of active duty were full of surgeries, medical, and mental health appointments. The combination of these ailments led to my medical retirement.
To me at the time, being non-deployable was a death sentence for my career, and a PTSD diagnosis was a death sentence for my soul. I felt as if I was broken beyond repair and obliged to fulfill my new moniker as a “dysfunctional veteran.” I dove head first into self-loathing and alcohol abuse to numb my emptiness and despair.
I tanked a relationship with the woman I had been engaged to for four years as well as a lucrative job in pharmaceutical sales. Subconsciously I was trying to destroy everything good in my life because I didn’t feel I deserved it, and I wasn’t ready to face the memories that made me feel this way.
But on February 14th of 2015 I took my last drink. I had concluded that if I didn’t stop drinking I was going to die and become just another statistic, but I still had some fight left in me. The Army had taught me to adapt and overcome. And I became hell-bent on doing just that.
I put my life back together in three and a half years. I now do yoga, have a daily meditation practice, I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m in grad school to become a social worker, and am currently doing an internship at the VA Pittsburgh. My reason for going into social work is to help veterans who are going through some of the things I went through. Maybe I can inculcate hope for those who feel like there’s no way out, like I once felt.
Throughout my recovery, I always felt like something was missing. And that thing was the camaraderie I felt in the Army. I honestly wasn’t sure how, where, or if I would ever find that again, but after moving to Pittsburgh in January of 2018 I thought I would give The Mission Continues a try.
I attended my first Mission Continues event in May of 2018 and immediately felt like I was at home. I was welcomed with open arms and put to work. I finally felt as if I was a part of a team again, a team with a higher purpose. The Mission Continues has provided me that sense of purpose, and I have found an amazing group of people that I consider to be close friends, something that has been missing from my life for quite some time.
I feel passionately about the impact The Mission Continues has on the communities we serve because I’ve seen it first-hand. In the short time since I’ve been involved with volunteering, I’ve noticed an overwhelming body of evidence that we are having an impact:
- We’ve built and installed “Little Free Libraries” stocked with food and books in Hazlewood, and ensured that they will be stocked for the years to come.
- We’ve participated in rallies and marches for equality and human rights, such as the Pittsburgh Pride March in June, as well as a demonstration for immigration reform in July.
- We’ve improved the accessibility of an elderly community members house after a fall in the winter made it a challenge for her to safely navigate her front and backyard.
- We’ve surveyed community members of Homewood to assess their needs and we turned those surveys into our 9/11 remembrance service project, in which we renovated and cleaned up the local football field meanwhile providing a meaningful, collaborative experience for the over 100 people that were involved.
Just this week, I found out that the over three years of work on this football field has materialized into much more than on-the-spot upgrades. It was just announced that the collaborative efforts of The Mission Continues and other organizations has turned into funding for the team to get a brand-new football field.
To the people of this community this is about much more than a football field. This is about the kids and the families having a place where they can gather as a community around a sport that will help develop and nurture the kids into well rounded adults. The lessons they learn playing a game will transcend into lessons they can pass onto future generations. In my opinion, this will positively change the trajectory for the families in this community.
People are happy to see us in their communities and are grateful for the work we do. Not only do I get to hang out with some amazingly selfless veterans, I get to be a part of bringing a smile to someone’s face and possibly changing their future for the better.
I chose to donate my birthday to The Mission Continues by starting a fundraiser on Facebook because I wholeheartedly believe in this organization. I want to see The Mission Continues grow and develop into a much bigger organization so we can continue to help veterans get reconnected and we can continue to have a positive impact on the communities we serve.
If you are a veteran and you find yourself longing for the camaraderie and purpose you felt in the military, then check out your closest Mission Continues event. We just may have what you didn’t know was missing.
Sean F. Tyler
CPT (Med. Ret) MSC