I can remember being in school when Columbus Day was still on the calendar and MLK Day was celebrated as part of Black History Week. Now in 2019, almost 22 years after my last Black history report in U.S. History class, and 12 years since I received my honorable discharge, I reflect back and note that a day or a week was not justice at all.
As we completed our 2019 MLK project at Brownsville Middle School in Miami, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many other civic and community groups come to lend their strength, ‘cause three hours of raking dead leaves is no laughing matter, but at the end we all had smiles on our faces.
As the holidays came to a close, I took some time to reflect. I am truly grateful for my ability to continue to serve.
When I was discharged from the military, I went through numerous financial, professional, academic and even spiritual setbacks. The few holidays I can remember without having my family, not being in a comfortable bed, or eating my mom’s home cooking, was not ideal.
My time in the U.S. Navy seems both far and close at the same time. Yet I felt being able help and mingle with different people, especially when the holidays roll around, gave me a sense of purpose. But the holidays when I was with my brethren was spent in unfamiliar waters and lands, surrounded with mostly familiar faces was uplifting.
I rediscovered my esprit de corps when I joined The Mission Continues, and continue to flourish, to be more involved, and to improve others’ lives and the environment.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s eight core values from the Civil Rights Movement will be the center of veteran-led service projects happening in cities around the country
NEW YORK, Jan. 15, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Leading up to and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The Mission Continues, a national veterans’ nonprofit, will commemorate Dr. King’s legacy through large-scale community service. Veteran volunteers with the organization will apply their skills in over 45 cities nationwide to transform communities and create lasting impact. A selection of these cities and their projects have been identified as representations of the core values Dr. King preached during the Civil Rights Movement: Nonviolence, Hope, Equality, Faith, Education, Love, Leadership and Selflessness.
“Dr. King unified and mobilized millions of people as forces for change in their community. He and his values are an inspiration to all of us,” said Spencer Kympton, U.S. Army veteran and president of The Mission Continues. “It’s only fitting that we honor him and carry on those values by bringing service-minded people together in veteran-led community action, all across the country.”
Miami’s 1st and Broward’s 1st platoons have two unique things in mind: environmental stewardship and youth development. It is within this cross-sectional focus that the two platoons come together and literally build community, one nail and wooden plank at time.
As a member of this community, I have found strength, not through the force of hands; wisdom, not through the wealth of experience; and kinship, not through the number of bodies. I have discovered these attributes and more, like empathy, kindness and sacrifice through their capacity to accept me as I am.
April 22, 2018 By David Riera, Mission Continues volunteer
My experience in war-torn Iraq makes me reflect that the land under my feet this very moment in Miami is also embattled, and this time the mission to help it belongs to all of us.
When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I had a collection of over 40 MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) Tabasco sauce bottles filled with sand from every place I was deployed in Iraq. They reminded me of my bond to the places I would sooner forget.
As the CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter flew us to secure our first target in Iraq, I saw the landscape cracked and cratered. The sand was piled high to create 10-foot defensive burms. The lakes and streams were poisoned, littered with rotting carcasses. In that moment the price of conflict was grafted onto me.
That’s when I knew scorched earth operations did not just change the land – it changed me too. It was not just about the loss of human life on all sides. It was also about trying to survive in a place where our missions violated the environment every day.
Social equality – or the lack thereof — has played a deciding role in how communities identify, thrive, survive, or die. Every community — from the veteran community to the conservation community — has to actively find those voices that have been left out of the conversation, and empower them to be heard.
As I reflect on the works of African American legends like Dr. King, George Washington Carver, the Buffalo Soldiers, and other personal heroes of mine, I am prompted to be mindful where social, economic, and environmental justice for all can (and needs to) be intertwined.
The Miami 1st Service Platoon welcomed over 100 new fellows and platoon leaders with open arms on Friday, January 26th. The purpose? To convene for a weekend of learning, connecting, and preparing for their new mission.
To show these newcomers what we’re made of, the weekend kicked off on Saturday with a Mission Continues must-have: a service project.
New Fellows Get Five Pieces of Advice
Veteran Derek Auguste spoke to the incoming class of fellows, leaving them with five pieces of advice as they begin their journey. Listen to his full speech below.
I feel this is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention.
After you transition out of the military and into civilian life, you might be coming back to a family that’s been living without you for a while. It’s not just you that’s “transitioning” — it’s your family too. That transition is tough. It was for me. It was for my wife and kids.
Feeling Like an Outsider
I taught my children that celebrating birthdays and holidays were not as important as the time we had together overall. This philosophy was meant to protect them from being disappointed if I was unable to be home for such special occasions. I thought I was protecting them. But really, I was protecting myself from feeling guilty. Continue reading “How a Veteran and His Family Transitioned Together”
In honor of Veterans Day, Miami’s 1st Service Platoon returned to Everglades National Park, which sustained damage during Hurricane Irma. While there was much to be done, they focused their efforts where it was needed most.
The park’s 3-in-1 Trail had been rendered unusable due to downed trees and other debris. This half-mile trail is most popular among school groups because it takes them through three different habitats that can be found in the park.
Mission Continues volunteers spent the afternoon clearing the trail of branches and brush — completing in under one day what it would have taken the park much longer to do with fewer people.
This project was apt because the operational focus of the Miami’s 1st Service Platoon is environmental stewardship. To that end, the platoon partners with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to help alleviate some of the needs in Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park.
Jacqueline Crucet of NPCA explains the significance of the weekend’s project and the partnership overall. “Veterans stepped up when we needed them to defend our country, and national parks are there for them when they return, to help provide them solace.”
For this reason, she continues, “connecting our heroes to our shared heritage is really meaningful for our NPCA and National Park Service staff.”
Jacqueline explains how parks benefit from this relationship. “Parks need maintenance and protection, and our work with The Mission Continues has helped address the nearly 12 billion dollars of deferred maintenance backlog within the National Park Service. When veterans are enjoying their parks in service they form their own individual connection to that public space. Preserving our nation’s parks for tomorrow ties us all together. Together, we make sure parks are in pristine condition for the next generation.”
“I like to call it national parks and service.”
Another important aspect of protecting the parks is fostering new champions for them. Matthew Tanner, City Impact Manager for The Mission Continues told us, “We have seen three Miami platoon members fly to Washington, D.C. over the past two years to speak with Congress through their increased involvement with the NPCA. This year, one of our members met with Secretary Zinke, himself a veteran, to discuss the importance of protecting and preserving our national parks for veterans and for all of us.”
Jacqueline praises The Mission Continues volunteers for speaking, as veterans and private citizens, about the value of national parks. “Through lending your voice to NPS issues, you’ve certainly helped raise awareness among the veteran community, civilian community, and elected officials of the importance of the national parks to all.”
In January The Mission Continues will be hosting our Alpha Orientation for new fellows and platoon leaders in Miami, where we will gather for a large service project, so stay tuned!
October 5, 2017 By David Riera, Platoon Member & 2016 Fellow
Irma took three days to show up at my door in Miami. As a member of the Miami 1st Platoon, we responded in the same way the team in Houston did to Hurricane Harvey. The feeling was intense to say the least, but very focused and organized. I felt a surging calmness as I prepared for the worst.
Over three days our team purchased supplies using our own resources, and executed the lockdown of nearly 25 homes (not counting our own). This included everything from hanging steel window shutters, bolting down plywood sheets, and slamming down sandbags.