Veterans Build a New Generation of Service On 9/11

September 16, 2015

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Fourteen years have come and gone since September 11, 2001, and for many the memory of that day will forever be defined by the sights and sounds of Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But in reflecting on the day, we also remember what has come after: sacrifice and continued service.

Five million Americans have served since fall of 2001. Each of their lives were transformed in countless ways by military action worldwide.

In continuing that call to action, our service platoons gathered in New York, Washington, DC, Dallas, Seattle and ten other cities to take part of the National Day of Service.

Platoon members filling dumpsters with debris from Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members filling dumpsters with debris from Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
Platoon members construct benches at Ft. Wadsworth, September 11, 2015.
New York platoon members construct benches at Ft. Wadsworth, September 11, 2015.

In New York, our local service platoons formed up within view of One World Trade Center to help restore areas of Ft. Wadsworth, a vital piece of U.S. military history, for a two-day project.

In collaboration with the National Park Service and a crew from Team Rubicon, our veteran volunteers removed more than 15 tons of debris and restored a camping area, which will make the historical site more welcoming for visitors in the months and years to come.

New York platoon members haul debris to dumpsters at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members haul debris to dumpsters at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members pose with a historic sign uncovered at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members pose with a historic sign uncovered at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.

At our DC project, more than 80 volunteers, including motivated Wounded Warrior Project Alums and staff, gathered at a charter school and revitalized a learning garden for kids, painted a school crest and helped renovate the school exterior.

Kids and volunteers gather to paint, September 11, 2015. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Kids and volunteers from Washington, DC service platoons gather to paint. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN,DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Washington, DC platoon members restore the school's exterior, September 11, 2015. GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLSWashington, DC platoon members restore the school’s exterior, September 11, 2015. GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Volunteers carry wood at Democracy Prep in Washington, DC, September 11, 2015. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLSVolunteers carry wood at Democracy Prep in Washington, DC, September 11, 2015. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The anniversary was significant, and in more ways than some might think. As the projects continued, veterans reflected on how the work they were doing was going to impact tomorrow, not so much about the wars and military experience behind them. A new generation is waiting to take the reins, and the work of our platoons ensures they will know what it means to serve.

Looking to serve your community and inspire the next generation of leaders? Sign up for a service platoon in your area.

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.

Want to make a difference in your community? Apply for a fellowship

Remembering 9/11

September 16, 2014

Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives in the events of 9/11. And five million men and women have stepped up to defend our nation in uniform since that day. Last week, The Mission Continues deployed in communities across the country for a day of service to mark the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Volunteers built playgrounds for at-risk youth, provided much needed maintenance for a domestic violence shelter, and rehabilitated a community river trail  — all in honor of those lost in the events of 9/11.

Continue reading “Remembering 9/11”

The Veterans Landscape in the City of Dreams

September 12, 2014
Regan Turner

On the morning of September 11, 2001, 221 passengers and crew boarded airplanes bound for Los Angeles, unaware that in just a few short hours the world would change forever, and that they would never reach their final destination. At the time, I was a senior in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, uncertain of the significance of the World Trade Center Towers or even where they stood.

Four years later, by then having gazed solemnly at the gaping hole at Ground Zero in New York City, I was tasked to lead Marines across the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan in pursuit of the terrorists behind the attacks of 9/11. A year after that, I sat and sipped chai tea with villagers in Iraq who tried to convince me that the United States had planned the 9/11 attacks as a motive to invade their country, while I silently prayed that my Marines and I would evade the next roadside bomb and make it home safely to ours. Luckily, we did.

Continue reading “The Veterans Landscape in the City of Dreams”