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.
For the launch of our newest program, the Service Leadership Corps, 50+ veterans gathered in Newark, New Jersey to engage in innovative leadership training and community service. The weekend marked the beginning of their commitment as they embarked on our 6-month program to tackle some of our nation’s toughest challenges by partnering with community organizations on a local level.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Boeing, and CarMax, for making this program possible.
It was truly an energizing experience to have so many impact-minded veterans gathered in a professional setting. Conversations were productive. Connections were purposeful. Outcomes and goals were concrete.
The weekend was about the same three things that The Mission Continues is all about — connectedness, community impact, and personal growth.
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.
What was at first a volunteer passion project has turned into a career.
By Nitza Rivera, volunteer
I have been able to see first-hand how something that may seem so insignificant to one person, can improve the quality of life for another.
I truly believe that veteran leadership in our communities is just as important for the veteran as it is for the community it’s impacting.
With all my military moves through the different parts of this country and abroad, one thing remains constant, and that is the lack of leadership within our communities. It doesn’t necessarily mean that communities don’t care, I think that a lot of the times community members don’t know who to reach out to or where to look for guidance.
For me, and other veterans, leaving the service left a void in our passion to serve others. Having the opportunity to use our leadership experience to serve and help mentor members in our communities fills that void. It also provides a platform of peer support for other veterans within the community, and the opportunity for the community to interact and learn about veterans.
On Saturday, April 28, veterans from The Mission Continues Puerto Rico Service Platoon partnered with Panamericano Hospital for an impactful day of service they dubbed Stars of Hope.
Since Hurricane Maria struck the island, veterans and community members from The Mission Continues Service Platoons in Puerto Rico, Miami and Orlando have been working hard to provide support and service to the individuals, families and communities impacted by the hurricane’s devastation. Continue reading “Veterans Create Stars of Hope in Puerto Rico”
77 dynamic women veteran leaders will gather in DC for this weekend for our 3rd annual Women Veterans Leadership Summit. Together they’ll engage in communication and writing workshops, experience inspiring speakers, and grow their personal and professional networks.
This is a unique forum to exchange ideas and solutions around the challenges women veterans face while developing pathways to increase women veteran leadership within their communities.
As we countdown the days to the summit, we want to highlight some of our participants and how they came to The Mission Continues. Here’s Karen Quiles’s story.
How the Military Empowered Me
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I grew up in a very humble environment and I had a simple upbringing. Growing up in Puerto Rico was hard for me in many ways. I felt like a lot of programs were out of reach. I started working when I was 15 and became homeless in my late teens, on top of a lack of educational opportunities, family problems, and an unstable government.
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.
“I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” -Malala Yousafzai
Across the country, our women veterans have been raising their voices through service on behalf of children, families, and neighborhoods in need. They’ve helped youth to learn about healthy eating, caregivers to open pathways to economic success, and communities to rally around safe and uplifting public spaces.
The #HerMission campaign is our effort to not only recognize those successes and the incredible women who fuel The Mission Continues, but also to unify and catalyze a diverse group of women veterans who will shape our future.
It began last year in Pittsburgh, where the Hazelwood Platoon created the very first #HerMission project, with over 50 women veterans, family members, staff, and residents of the Hazelwood community helped renovate the library at Center of Life community empowerment organization.
This past weekend, nearly 150 women in Boston, Lowell, Pittsburgh, New York City, Newark, and central Florida came together to collectively raise their voices, and their call to act will reverberate for generations.
It’s been six months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and U.S. Army veteran Frankie Perez is on a mission to galvanize veterans to build a legacy of service on the island.
To understand his mission, you have to understand Frankie’s story and what this would mean to veterans in Puerto Rico.
The youngest of 10 brothers, Frankie was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He enlisted in the military just months before the attacks of September 11, 2001 and deployed to Iraq in 2005. But when he came back to live in Puerto Rico in 2006, he knew he wasn’t the same anymore. Two years later, Frankie attempted suicide.
This experience motivated him to enroll in programs with the Wounded Warrior Project to manage the challenges that come with PTSD and to connect with other veterans facing the same things. As he became more involved within the veteran space, he built up a veteran network, and it was through this veteran network that he found The Mission Continues in 2017.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
It was around that time that Vu Nguyen and Matthew “Mateo” Tanner, City Impact Managers for The Mission Continues, were doing research in Puerto Rico with the goal of starting a volunteer group made up of military veterans to serve the island.
They came knowing two things: They knew there was a need in many Puerto Rican communities for revitalization and empowerment, and they knew that was exactly what The Mission Continues already did in communities across the country.
According to Frankie, veterans are misunderstood in Puerto Rico, perhaps to a more extreme degree than they are on the mainland. “I feel like a second class citizen. People think we are crazy people that use pills or get drunk.”
This lack of public understanding bothers him. “They don’t see the resiliency. They don’t understand that some veterans are lost because they’re not in a team effort environment anymore. It just seems like a crazy, selfish world to us. And that’s why we struggle the most.”
The Mission Continues had planned to launch a service platoon in San Juan by the year 2020, but the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria introduced an immediate need to activate veterans to help rebuild.
This call to serve struck a chord with Puerto Rican veterans like Frankie who yearn to be at the forefront of a veteran-led movement. “The hunger of the people to do good and be part of change — that’s something I’ve never seen in my life, after the military. That core is our core.”
Frankie is now the leader of the Puerto Rico 1st Service Platoon. “I’m excited because we’re going to provide opportunities for veterans and civilians to change Puerto Rico for the better. The Mission Continues is going to be part of positive change for the entire island.”
One important aspect of this positive change is that it is sourced from Puerto Rican veterans themselves and their fellow community members.
“Part of the magic of The Mission Continues is that the service platoons work under the direction of the local veterans, and value the context they provide,” added City Impact Manager Mateo Tanner. “This couldn’t be more true for our approach in Puerto Rico. The culture, veteran experience, and obviously, challenges associated with Hurricane Maria, are different than what we experience on mainland.”
In addition to starting a service platoon made up of a group of volunteers, The Mission Continues also awarded two fellowships to veterans in Puerto Rico. These two veterans — Jaime Lugo and Jose Cruz — have both committed to six months of volunteering in nonprofits for 20 hours per week. Jaime will be serving with the American Red Cross, and Jose will be with Disabled American Veterans. They will also receive support from Mission Continues staff to set and achieve personal and professional growth goals.
“I used to do logistics to send weapons to kill people. Now I’ll be sending food and water to save people,” said Jaime, a US Marine Corps veteran. “I’m excited to put back to work a lot of things I learned in the military during the war to help as many people as I can.”
Jaime is looking forward to get back in action. He’s helping the American Red Cross improve their strategy for delivering aid to Puerto Rico, given the challenging island terrain. “Coming back after being in surgery for so many years, being able to put my experience to work is going to be awesome.”
Now more than ever, Puerto Rico needs veterans like you to serve again — this time, as their neighbors. If you too are looking to get back in action with The Mission Continues, this is your chance. We invite you to serve alongside veteran leaders like Frankie, Jaime and Jose at our first service project in Puerto Rico in April 2018.
Planned and executed by the newly-formed Puerto Rico 1st Service Platoon through our Service Platoon Program, this project is kickstarting sustained, veteran-inspired impact in Puerto Rico.