April 24, 2018
By Karen Quiles, Platoon Member
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.
I enlisted a little bit after 9/11 with the Marine Corps and had an opportunity to travel and live in other countries. The military was my ticket out of my negative environment. Enlisting opened so many doors that would have otherwise never been available to me.
I was able to successfully restructure my life and my career and have something under my name that I could be proud of. I embraced the training and the military lifestyle, and decided to make the most out of it. I had an opportunity to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and served with amazing individuals whom I call my family today.
One thing about this experience that I will never forget is that I was able focus my capabilities into a role that empowered my ambition for life. It has granted me a lifestyle that I feel truly grateful for.
How I got Involved in Volunteering
I have always been one to volunteer for different things. I believe in volunteering and serving your local community.
While on active duty I had an opportunity to be stationed at the recruiting office in Fort Lauderdale. I volunteered with United Way, Broward/Dade Safety Council, Women in Distress, and other agencies that were actively engaged in many programs within the community.
Plugging myself into the civilian world and going to school were two instrumental experiences that helped me create a plan to jumpstart a career outside the military lifestyle.
I relocated to Florida and immediately enrolled in school and started volunteering with The Mission Continues and other organizations.
I find that I can focus on what I am doing while helping others — we all need help, no one succeeds in life alone. I love having the ability to help anyone facing an adversity. If I can help, I will.
Supporting Puerto Rico Where I Can
This brings me to a topic near and dear to my heart – my childhood home, Puerto Rico. My particular experience both living in the island before Hurricane Maria and having survived other hurricanes in the island while growing up allows me an opportunity to look at the situation from a resident’s perspective.
- Puerto Rico still faces a substantial debt crisis.
- The wrath of Hurricane Maria exacerbated logistical and resource issues and multiplied the amount of help required that was already an ongoing battle for Puerto Ricans.
- The government is having a hard time figuring out how to rebuild the infrastructure of the island on an already tight budget.
- Many people are facing several difficulties with the lack of jobs, high taxes, schools and hospitals closing, and many other issues.
The struggle of the disaster recovery process after each hurricane can be slow and at times can bring a sense of desperation and depression to the people trying to cope with the adversities. You would think that an island prone to hurricanes would have safety precautions, disaster preparedness, and contingency plans in place but the reality is that they do not have or do not allocate a proper budget for those programs, and so they are almost non-existent.
I see a number of things that could have been in place to help prevent the current state that we are now in, and so it has inspired me to be a part of a solution.
Mobilizing Puerto Rican Veterans to #ReportforDuty Again
There is a very large veteran community in Puerto Rico that feels it has been left behind. Many veterans on the island are unaware of the benefits that come with service and so they associate their service as a thankless job or another horrible experience.
From my experience, being part of The Mission Continues Service Platoon Program and engaging with fellow veterans helped me a lot. I am able to communicate and relate to veterans in a way that feels special. Further, Puerto Rican veterans have a unique veteran experience, and so we can help each other face common difficulties together.
This is why I believe the new Puerto Rico 1st Service Platoon has the potential to become a trendsetter, and a real unifying force for veterans. Having the service platoon become a reliable source of support will restore a sense of camaraderie among local veterans and will inspire people to network and stay engaged.
A Boost from the Women Veteran Leadership Summit
I am very much looking forward to attending the Women Veteran Leadership Summit to meet like-minded powerful women who share my belief in making a difference in the lives of others. These women veterans are fellow leaders who selflessly dedicate their time and effort to our communities, actively engage in the front lines, and lead by example.
That is what separates dreamers from doers.
I’m moved by their individual actions but I am deeply inspired by our collective effort. It’s an underlying statement that resonates within each one of us as a personal responsibility to humanity, we understand the needs and seek progressive ways to find solutions that will compel and unite us as a whole.
Surrounding ourselves with positive and influential energy helps us gain a momentum in strategy and purpose. I feel it’s time to plug myself into a network of progressive ideology and support, where we can discuss current obstacles and develop a plan to overcome them by connecting and helping each other. Veterans understand this concept because we value teamwork. WVLS serves to reminds us of our purpose and unites us through our common goals. It serves as a reminder of everything that is possible.
We need to help ignite the spark in our fellow veterans so that everyone understands that we are not broken. Veterans are citizens with the skills and training to become community leaders and exemplary members of society. We must help instill that confidence within us all so we can shine together.
That is why I share my story, my struggle, my journey with others; in hopes of serving as an example that these things are possible — that overcoming your fears and adversities has a powerful effect in your life and that you are not alone in this journey.
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.