also to support one another in navigating reintegration to civilian life. For example, James Fitzgerald, an Army veteran and leader of the Bronx Service Platoon, is studying at Bronx Community College and is dedicated to making an impact in the community, but his transition from the military certainly wasn’t easy. While he was deployed to Afghanistan, a gunshot wound to his thigh knocked him off a mountain and into a ravine, leaving him with a fractured knee and broken femur. Getting back on his feet, figuratively and literally, after leaving the Army definitely had its hardships. But through The Mission Continues, Fitzgerald has been able to share his experiences with veterans who understand what he’s been through. And by serving alongside fellow veterans, he has been able to once again channel his spirit to serve his country. Platoons in Action: Pulling Together for Pittsburgh In the last decade, nearly 10,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have returned home to Pittsburgh, seeking to define their post-military legacy. But a challenging job market, headlines of veterans in crisis, and a skeptical civilian population have complicated the reintegration process for many of these former service members. In 2014, The Mission Continues turned its focus to changing that reality for Pittsburgh veterans with the launch of Pittsburgh 1st Service Platoon, a group embracing the skills and leadership of local veterans to help transform Hazelwood, one of the most underserved communities in Pittsburgh. Much of this effort has focused on renovating the Hazelwood Center of Life, a community center providing vital programming in areas such as financial literacy, music, education and athletics. To increase the Center of Life’s capacity for area students seeking a structured safe space for the summer, Platoon veterans volunteered their time every weekend in May to rehab the organization’s third floor – a previously condemned part of the building. The renovation has also dramatically decreased the Center of Life’s operating costs by eliminating the need to lease office space from a second building. For the platoon’s post-9/11 veteran members, volunteering together to make a difference in Hazelwood has helped them forge new connections in the
community while providing a strong network of support and deep sense of camaraderie. The dual impact of the program is receiving national recognition.The Mission Continues Pittsburgh Service Platoon received a 2015 Edison Award, one of the most prestigious accolades honoring excellence in innovation, for their groundbreaking work to create positive change in the community and support post-9/11 veterans in their reintegration to civilian life. Pittsburgh native James O’Connor has been a leading force behind the Pittsburgh Service Platoon’s success. After serving five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, O’Connor returned home with a desire to leverage his leadership skills to improve his community. As the founding leader of the Pittsburgh Service Platoon, O’Connor has successfully engaged more than 120 local veterans in service to the community, and has led nine major service projects to help Hazelwood residents avoid displacement and enjoy a higher quality of life. O’Connor was recently nominated for a Pittsburgh Champions award in the First Responders and Military category in recognition of his outstanding leadership with the platoon. Leaving a Legacy of Continued Service There are many pressing issues facing our communities across the country. From hunger and homelessness to blighted neighborhoods and youth in crisis, the problems can sometimes seem overwhelming and solutions unobtainable. The post-9/11 generation of veterans is uniquely positioned to inspire communities to take action. They are poised to make a lasting and positive impact at home, using their training and skills to solve local problems, build businesses and contribute to their communities. Through The Mission Continues’ programs, veterans have the opportunity to be leaders once again. Our desire to serve never faltered and our country’s needs have not diminished. We are deploying again, this time in our own hometowns. Join us and mobilize with us. Aaron Scheinberg is a U.S. Army veteran and Executive Director of the Northeast Region for The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit that engages military veterans in new missions of service nationwide. missioncontinues.org.
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