BACK FROM THE BRINK
THE MISSION CONTINUES: LEADERSHIP BEYOND THE UNIFORM
BY DANIELLE VINSON PHOTOGRAPHS BY FULMERPHOTOGRAPHY.SMUGMUG.COM
The military uniform signifies exceptional inspiration and a great deal of dedication. Behind the buttons and décor on a dress coat, underneath each collared chevron or Velcro insignia, lay the stories of our country. All that have served, are serving, or will serve our country leave their marks of compassion and bravery in history. From a civilian perspective, understanding the lifestyle of veterans seems easy and straightforward. Yet there are so many positions that make up each branch of the military. They all work together to form this monumentally admirable and courageous group of human beings. They not only sacrifice their time in the States, or time with their loved ones, but they also put their lives in harms way in order to keep all of us at home safe. In the mix between happy homecomings and tragic losses are the stories of those who can no longer serve as they were
trained. The Mission Continues is a non-profit
organization based out of St. Louis, Missouri. It began in 2007, when its founder, CEO, and Navy Seal veteran Eric Greitens spent some time at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. After visiting with the wounded Marines at the hospital, Greitens became so moved that he took his own combat pay, along with the disability pay from two of his fellow veterans, to found The Mission Continues. Mallory Rusch, communications director for the organization, said that it was each man and woman’s “unwavering desire to continue serving his country” that truly inspired the whole organization.
There’s a recurring theme in the work that The Mission Continues performs, and it is this: each man and woman that has ever worn our country’s uniform has not only the knowledge and experience, but also the capacity to act as a great leader in their respective communities. The organization thrives through their Fellowship program, in which committed and eager post- 9/11 veterans enlist on a paid 26-week Fellowship journey. During the 26 weeks, each veteran works a required 520 hours of service at a non-profit organization that fits their unique passions ranging from homelessness, education and disaster preparedness to environmental issues and beyond. In addition to their Fellowship experience, Rusch also says that each Fellow will “work towards achieving one of three post-fellowship goals: full-time employment, pursuit of higher education or a permanent role of service”.
The driving force in each Fellowship is to reinstate that sense of purpose through service – the purpose each and every veteran came to know so well while serving our country in the military. To date, The Mission Continues has awarded 250 Fellowships, with 100 Fellows from the Bravo class joining the ranks this coming April, and another 38 Fellows joining their Alpha class this past January. Alongside the support of over 15,000 volunteers with fellows in 30 states, the organization has conducted service projects nationally.
Rusch shared a heart-gripping story from her visit to Blytheville, Arkansas with one of their Fellows, Anthony Smith. According to Rusch, “Anthony was directly hit by an RPG [rocket propelled grenade], was listed as Killed-In-Action, and placed in a body bag before he was discovered to still be breathing. After sixty-two days of being in a medically induced coma, he awoke to find that he had lost his right arm, hip, femur, muscles in his leg, his right kidney and part of his bowels”. Rusch later visited Anthony and watched him teach a martial arts class to a room of eight-year-olds in an after school program for the Boys and Girls Club. She spoke admirably of Anthony’s ability to command respect from the kids, while teaching them valuable techniques such as visualization, and breathing through anger. Watching him teach self-control to his students and witnessing the happiness of the kids, as well as his impact on the classroom was “utterly inspirational” to Rusch.
The Mission Continues puts veterans like Anthony and so many others in contact with opportunities in their communities to continue their service. Stories like Anthony’s are profound, but unfortunately disability isn’t the only obstacle veterans face when enlistments end. Although poverty rates are about half that of non-veterans overall, according to reports conducted by the Veteran’s Administration, the veteran’s poverty rates have significantly increased over the past decade. From these reports, the highest percentages, and biggest spikes on the charts, for both poverty and unemployment rates came from veterans between the ages of 18 and 24. When an enlistment comes to an end, especially through unforeseen or unexpected circumstances, veterans are left unprepared in the face of their new civilian lives. Our military branches provide a number of groups, programs, and resources for veterans, yet the numbers are still too great. We still encounter men and women on street medians or freeway off ramps, with not much more than a cardboard sign, depicting their situations far beyond the few scribbled words “homeless vet”, “anything helps”, and “God bless”.
Our veterans are such great assets here at home, and The Mission Continues is actively and successfully working towards making this message heard. It’s through their continued camaraderie coupled with their strong intrinsic sense of service that this organization is able to offer a valuable, amazing opportunity for our communities, our veterans, and our country as a whole. To get more information, donate, volunteer for upcoming service projects, or get involved with The Mission Continues, please visit www.missioncontinues.org/getinvolved