From Feeling Lost to Building Homes and Running Miles

August 23, 2016
By Peggy Schnack, Fellow

7CF7374A-761E-4DDA-84DB-7FBC8A6E98A4Peggy (right) arrives at the Charlie Class 2016 Orientation service project on July 23, 2016 in Minneapolis.

Peggy Schnack is an Air Force veteran, a 2016 Charlie Class Fellow serving with Habitat for Humanity, and will run the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) with Team Mission Continues on October 30, 2016.

As I sit here watching the Olympic Games, contemplating what The Mission Continues means to me, I realize that like the Olympics, Mission Continues brings diverse people together to achieve things that they may not have thought possible.

A year ago I did not know what I was doing or where I was headed.  I had graduated from seminary, but depression quickly took over my life.  I did not identify with being a veteran or much of anything else.  Part of my healing has come from rediscovering and reconnecting with who I am.  

While I floundered I sought connection and community, but did not know where to find it.  I needed somewhere that it was okay to be broken; where people would not pressure me to be anything I was not feeling up to at the moment but would be there for me when I needed support.  

Continue reading “From Feeling Lost to Building Homes and Running Miles”

From Dusty Roads to City Streets: I’m Reporting for Duty Again

July 22, 2016
By Shannon Doty, Platoon Leader

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I recently had the unique experience of being a part of The Mission Continues first Mass Deployment, to Detroit. One week, five days of service, four project sites: 4000+ hours of service. A couple of other fun statistics: three amazing roommates, 70 other incredible veterans, countless national staff that coordinated and planned the whole thing, and approximately five hours of sleep every night. Plus, there was the added benefit of coming home looking like you spent a week street fighting because you’ve got bruises everywhere.

I have been volunteering with The Mission Continues for about a year and a half now. Engaging with other veterans has been essential in maintaining happiness and balance in my life. When I disengage from the veteran community, I disengage from life — and that is when I fall into depressive episodes and let my health slide.

Illness, injury, surgeries and recoveries have dominated my life for the past 11 months. I could do the service projects I found with the Minneapolis 1st Platoon when I was sick, weak, and recovering from these injuries. I didn’t have to be in a perfectly healthy mental place, I could be engaged at any level I was comfortable with and still be a part of the work.

It was exactly what I needed. I found the monthly projects were a constant that I could count on, something that I could look forward to and be engaged with my community and fellow veterans. As I got better physically and emotionally, I became more engaged, and looked for more ways to get involved.

Enter Operation Motown Muster, a pilot program where 70 veterans came from all over the country to do five days of service in Detroit. It was competitive. I had to apply, do a phone interview, and sit on pins and needles (or just checking my email compulsively) until I found out I had gotten in.

When I got the acceptance email, I actually screeched at work. Trying to explain Motown Muster was like trying to explain the nuances of the commerce clause to my dog Frodo. One thing was for sure, they were excited for me simply because of how excited I was.

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As we got closer to the date, and more information came to us, I found out I was going to be a Team Leader for some projects every day. I had moments of panic because I certainly did not feel prepared to have any responsibility at all. After my initial panic and self-doubt, I turned to my old reliable method of coping: I figured I could use false confidence until I figured out what I was going to do.

I have served in a leadership role for the past 11 years in the military as a non-commissioned officer since I was 21 years old. I am familiar and comfortable in that structure. It felt so much different when I had to lead people who were my equals. I couldn’t rely upon my rank alone. I knew I was going to have to find ways to motivate and lead people I had just met.

I brought in a bit of my attorney training for this challenge. I decided to fake my confidence until I started to feel it. It took time. The last day was when I finally found it. When given an amazing group of people with natural leaders in it, it is so easy to stand back and let them work. Our goal was to construct five benches and five picnic tables, lay mulch and anchor the picnic tables and benches in the ground. We did all of that and built an additional five picnic tables.

While my team members were building, measuring, and teaching some local volunteers how to use power tools, all I had to do was ensure they had what they needed. Seeing them working so hard and so well together without the need for constant guidance from me made me significantly more proud than if I had sat there and did all of the work myself.  

This moment is better understood with some context about myself. I left Iraq in April 2008 and Afghanistan in September 2012 feeling like I had done nothing. It is important for people to understand that this was a feeling of personal failure, not commentary on the wars themselves.

Whenever I had the opportunity to interact with the women and children in Afghanistan, (which were ample because I was a medic and a woman), I left those situations feeling as if I had failed. I had failed to provide them better medical care, I had failed to be a better advocate for them in our mission debriefs. I had failed in ways I hadn’t even figured out yet.

I saw that these women and children had no bright future simply because of the place and time they were born into. I wasn’t taking my privilege and using it to help these women. I left Afghanistan disappointed in how I had handled myself as a woman as an advocate for other women.

I saw destruction, disease, and women and children being ignored and used as political pawns. I saw entire cities and towns left in pieces. I saw schools destroyed, leaving an entire generation of children without education, an entire generation of children growing up ignored. There was no urgency or desire to rebuild, because as long as the war was still going on there was always the chance it was going to be destroyed again.

When I got home, I saw so much of the same here, in the very country that I left to protect against what I saw in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was incredibly disheartening. Failing schools, disenfranchised populations, a small group of people thriving while the rest fight for survival.

I felt as if I had gone from a forgotten war to a country that had forgotten to take care of its people. I wanted to do something to start supporting my community, but I didn’t know how. It was too much for me to take on alone. When I found The Mission Continues, it was like finding a family, other people with the same desire, but with focus, resources, and a common goal.

Detroit is the perfect example of how we have neglected our own country, our cities, our children, the most vulnerable of our citizens. Getting an opportunity to go and be a part of the healing and rebuilding of Detroit gave me a chance to address those feelings of disappointment in myself that I had harbored for so long. I was not there with 70 other people to “save” Detroit, I was lending a hand, providing manual labor and supplies to the people already working to bring their city back to the glory it was.

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Detroit is alive, Detroit has never been dead. There are people there that never left, they never gave up on Detroit, even when the country turned its back on the city that single handedly equipped us for World War II with its manufacturing capabilities. When Detroit comes back it will be because of the people that stayed in Detroit and kept it alive.

I must take what I saw in Detroit and bring it back home with me. I must take the joy, love, energy and enthusiasm from all the other Mission Continues veterans I met in Detroit and channel it to begin to work in my community. The same problems that plague Detroit are all over our country, and I know we have many of the same issues in my home of Minneapolis.

As I unpack what I learned, and what I can bring to 1st Platoon here in Minneapolis as the new Platoon Leader come August, I will remember that no matter how desperate things may look, there is nothing that cannot be achieved when you get 70 highly motivated people together and give them a mission, 94% of the supplies, and love.

I will always remember seeing the people from the neighborhood come out as we were working, and asking us what we were doing, and seeing them sitting on those picnic tables while talking to my fellow veterans. That was the moment I truly started to understand how much of an impact my time in Detroit would have — not just immediately, but long term. I didn’t need to tell them exactly what we accomplished that week. They will see it, they will eat at the tables, play on the playgrounds, and walk the halls of the school.

 

Shannon is a member of the Wisconsin National Guard and volunteers with The Mission Continues Minneapolis 1st Platoon. She will be a Platoon Leader starting August 2016.

Report for duty in your community with The Mission Continues. Serve with a Service Platoon at an upcoming service event near you or apply for a fellowship. You can learn more about our programs on our website and stay updated on the latest news and announcements on Facebook and twitter. 

Defining Passion

June 13, 2016
By Rhonda Schlumpberger, Fellow

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Passion is the act of having a powerful or compelling emotion or feeling. We hear this word used often in today’s culture: “I’m passionate about rock climbing, music, photography, riding horses, cooking, travel….” The list is endless.

But what about a passion for serving?

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The Detroit I Know

June 3, 2016
By Courtney Sloat

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They love their city and they don’t want to leave. They have lived here their whole lives and are proud of it. There’s a strong sense of determination and perseverance. Who am I talking about? The people of Detroit.

That’s why I was thrilled when I saw that The Mission Continues was coming to Detroit for an entire week, working alongside local community members and partners to help rebuild our city. I had just joined the Detroit Platoon in order to volunteer in my community while also connecting with fellow veterans in my area, and this seemed like a great opportunity. Continue reading “The Detroit I Know”

Mother And Son Team Up To Serve Others

May 8, 2016

“Mom, they don’t even know me and they come here to make me smile. That is just like what you do, and I want to help too.” Jaiden Henry, eight years old and the son of Chicago’s 1st Platoon Leader Kim McGraw,  had fallen ill and was temporarily hospitalized. To his amazement however, volunteers kept coming by to keep his spirits up.

He has since worked hard alongside his mother to inspire others to do the same.

Continue reading “Mother And Son Team Up To Serve Others”

A Sense of Belonging, Together

May 3, 2016
By Mary Beth Bruggeman

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on The Huffington Post)

On the rare occasion that 50 women gather together in the military, their male counterparts hover anxiously outside the room, wondering what conspiracies they must be plotting within. So you can imagine the awe and great personal fulfillment I felt when 52 women veterans from The Mission Continues – representing all five branches of the military – came together for the first time in April to share stories, to laugh, and to learn.

Continue reading “A Sense of Belonging, Together”

What You Missed at Our Inaugural Women Veterans Leadership Summit

April 7, 2016

Last weekend in New Orleans, close to 60 women veterans from all over the country gathered to discuss everything from how to get out of debt, to owning your identity as a woman veteran, to starting a business, to making sure you get the full range of women’s health services offered by Veterans Affairs.

The summit was filled with valuable lessons, professional networking, and leadership training. Attendee Meosha Thomas applauded the summit, saying, “weekends like this help change the narrative of what women veterans look like.”

Continue reading “What You Missed at Our Inaugural Women Veterans Leadership Summit”

Gearing up for Women Veterans Leadership Summit

March 29, 2016

A member of the Los Angeles 1st Platoon breaking down walls for the Stevenson Project
A member of the Los Angeles 1st Platoon breaking down walls for the Stevenson Project.

We are days away from the inaugural Women Veterans Leadership Summit in New Orleans. Soon 50 women leaders from the Mission Continues network will gather to share insights, challenges, and wisdom with other women “in the trenches” of service and business. Today we are taking a closer look at what inspires and drives our peers to be leaders in their communities. For Army veteran and Service Platoon Member Nicole Thomas, attending the summit is a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded peers. Continue reading “Gearing up for Women Veterans Leadership Summit”

Keeping an Open Mind

March 7, 2016
By Tonya Cook

I knew there was more to life than what my small town had to offer. I wanted to see things I read about in school books and escape the small town mentality of being trapped as a product of my environment. I thought college could be my way out, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me. So I joined the Navy, and eventually retired with 20 years of Service.

When I separated from the military in 2013, I found the most challenging part was identifying and finding my purpose again. My only child had just graduated from high school, so I felt my purpose of being a needed mother was gone. I was going through a divorce, so I felt my purpose of being a wife was now gone as well. I was empty and depressed.

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Her Mission Continues: The Service of Post-9/11 Women Veterans

June 8, 2015

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They are daughters, sisters, neighbors and friends. They are mothers.

They are also soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors called upon to serve during the longest period of conflict our country has ever known – and not unique only because of the duration.

More than ever before, women have served under fire in pitched battles in Iraq and flown combat sorties over dangerous Afghan valleys. They’re deployed in humanitarian aid missions across the world and protect the nation here at home. They serve the same as men, and too often, they sacrifice the same as men.

Continue reading “Her Mission Continues: The Service of Post-9/11 Women Veterans”