The Mission Continues Veterans Serving on the Home Front

10 I Nonprofit Professional Performance Magazine Our model is simple – we seek to redeploy veterans in their communities, and arm them with the tools they need to take action in O n Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed. I was one of the 4,000 cadets at the United States Military Academy, West Point, just 40 miles north of the World Trade Center. We soon became acutely aware that our military career would take a much different turn than we had anticipated. Soon after graduating and earning a commission as a United States Army officer, I deployed to Iraq. There, I led infantry and tank platoons into the “Triangle of Death” just south of Baghdad. Because I spoke Arabic, I later led a new civil affairs mission, responsible for providing social support and civic infrastructure projects in the country. After leaving the military in 2008, I returned to school and then went into consulting. Despite a successful career, I struggled as a civilian. I lacked the sense of purpose I’d had in the Army. I’ve since found that I wasn’t alone. Post-9/11 veterans are unique – as an all- volunteer force, we are personally driven and compelled to serve others, although this isn’t always the picture that you see in the media. From stories of PTSD and mental illness to violence and suicide, veterans are often painted as a liability to our country rather than an asset. At The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization with operations throughout the country, we seek to change the national conversation about veterans. By leveraging their skills and training, we have empowered thousands of veterans to serve their country in new ways for successful reintegration into civilian life.

residents live below the poverty line. As a result, the neighborhood is run- down and residents are no longer proud to live there. The Mission Continues is changing that. Our Bronx Service Platoon, consisting of more than 50 post-9/11 veterans living or working in the Bronx, has teamed up with the local community and corporate partners to improve infrastructure and beautify public spaces through place-based initiatives.The efforts of our service members in the area are inspiring pride among residents, encouraging them to stay in the area and take ownership of the community. Simultaneously, our veteran volunteers are discovering newfound purpose, which had been absent since their time in the service. In its first year of operation,the Bronx Platoon has grown to become a known and accepted force for good in District 5. Partnering with Guggenheim Partners, real estate developer BronxPro and nonprofit DreamYard, the Platoon is executing numerous community service projects that are changing the landscape and reviving the neighborhood’s vitality. This summer, those efforts included installing “cool roofs” – a marriage of Gaudi-style sculptural designs, murals and solar paint – on affordable housing facilities near Hayden Lord Park in District 5. The goal is to install 11 cool roofs, creating the nation’s largest solar-rooftop mural. Volunteers also filled more than 100 tree pits, planted flowers and installed mosaic artwork in the park, and broke ground on a new community park. With a focused mission to revitalize District 5, platoon members are working together to address a clear community need and

community service leadership. The result is a unique reciprocal benefit for the veteran and the community.Veterans use their community improvement experience to achieve successful post-military reintegration, simultaneously making a positive impact in neighborhoods. We have two programs to engage veterans in volunteerism. The first, The Mission Continues Fellowship Program, pairs veteran volunteers with local nonprofit organizations for six months. This allows each veteran to build new community connections and gain experience that will help them achieve full- time employment or pursue higher education. To scale our model, we launched a second program called The Mission Continues Service Platoon Program. Platoons are teams of veterans, active-duty service members and volunteers working with local organizations to address pressing community issues. The platoons become a mode of civic action, mobilizing veterans and their fellow community members to improve their neighborhoods and make an enduring mark in major cities across the country. Simultaneously, platoon members form an extended support network for each other. Platoons in Action: Breathing Life into the Bronx In Bronx Community District 5, the poorest congressional district in the nation, 38% of

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