June 17, 2018
By Justin Thomas, Platoon Leader
Although my father has passed, he has always been a great influence on my life and his words of wisdom, ignored in my youth, still resonate with me today. Now at the tender young age of 40, I am finally going to be a father myself and want to pass along my experiences in service to my soon-to-be-born daughter.
My life before the military is what I think of as typical for most who enlist. I was a directionless youth who did not sit still and could use a little discipline. My military experience pre-9/11 was not what I expected it to be. I found the Reserves to be boring, pointless, and frustrating.
I often kicked around the idea of active duty, but that decision was made for me on 9/11. After that day the military had a profound experience on my life. I was immediately called up for Homeland Security details and eventually deployed to Iraq in 2003.
After coming home from Iraq I took a position as a police officer and worked towards finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management. At this point in my life, I was emotionally done with police work and the military. I eventually started my own business, a functional training gym, which lasted five years. When that chapter closed I thought it was time for the corporate world and I took a soul-sucking job that I hated.
It was also at this time I found The Mission Continues through City Impact Manager Stephanie Grimes and her husband Nick, who works at the Veterans Breakfast Club. I eventually attended my first Mission Continues service project and I immediately felt that bond I had in the military and police work.
My experience with The Mission Continues and the connections made through it have given me a new direction in life. I am now a platoon leader for the Pittsburgh 3rd Service Platoon, where we focus on improving the lives of the immigrant and refugee community in the South Hills neighborhood.
Reconnecting with service through The Mission Continues made me realize what I loved about the work I did in the past. I was happiest when I was helping people, had camaraderie, and purpose.
Maybe at the time, I didn’t realize the military provided those things. Even police work, as annoyed as I was doing it, provided those things. In operating a gym that sought to change lives and was able to successfully do it, I experienced those elements as well.
My experience with The Mission Continues has brought this all back to me and made me realize how important it is to our happiness and wellbeing.
As I raise my family I look forward to involving them with service through The Mission Continues. I want my children to understand how precious life is and to continue to make this country better through service to their community. We can only get stronger if we work together for the greater good.
Like my father, I want to bring words of wisdom to my children and convey my experiences in life, the military, and service to my community: My experience in the military has taught me the importance of perseverance, integrity, and leadership. My experience with The Mission Continues has taught me the value of community, service to that community, and continued purpose. My life experience has taught me to never quit, keep learning, and enjoy the adventure.
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.