September 6, 2014
My name is Connor Mallon. I’m a photographer, an Iraq War veteran, and a Mission Continues Alpha Class Alumnus. Sometime just before college graduation I realized that I was basically standing in the same place I was in fresh out of the Army four years earlier. I met people on a daily basis who drudged though dead-end jobs with nothing to show for it but a paycheck and a few measly days of vacation every year. I wasn’t positive that I was making the right choice when it came to career fields and I didn’t want to get stuck doing something meaningless and unfulfilling for the rest of my life, so I started thinking about what I DID want to do.
I had been a hobby photographer all my life but up until a late night walk through the Zoo with a friend, the thought of doing it professionally had never seriously crossed my mind. That night I became obsessed with the idea of capturing exotic images with my lens and if I could find a way to work for the Zoo, I knew my photos could be used to help with the conservation effort. I contacted a friend of a friend who worked as a biologist for the Zoo, and as luck would have it, they were looking for a photographer.
I found The Mission Continues by sheer coincidence that same week and applied immediately. Giving veterans more responsibility and challenging us rather than pitying us was so beautifully simple yet completely novel, I knew it was something I had to be a part of. My fellowship flew by but turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
For the first time I was working toward something that not only made a difference in the world but also something I was passionate about. The gratification that comes from helping someone truly transcends money and it is the reason I have dedicated myself to a life of continued service.
Our society is largely indifferent to the wounds of its war fighters but there are organizations out there to help us heal and reward us for our ambition. For many veterans the couch has become the new Al Qaeda; getting off our asses and into our communities is the only way to win this war, and I’m incredibly grateful to The Mission Continues for keeping me in the fight.
Photos from Connor’s Fellowship at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo