For many of us in the latest generation of veterans, the inspiration to volunteer and serve started with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. More than 10 years later, we are returning home, and the desire to serve and make a difference still remains strong. Earlier this month, I had the privilege of joining with 71 of my fellow post-9/11 veterans as we revisited the site that inspired our generation, the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. This time, the visit inspired allegiance to a new mission: to lead and serve at home.
Those 71 veterans are the latest recruits for The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit organization that’s changing the conversation about post-9/11 veterans. It’s an organization that doesn’t believe in handouts, but instead challenges veterans to redeploy in their local communities by volunteering for six months with a local nonprofit organization. For each and every post-9/11 veteran enlisted with The Mission Continues this journey starts with an orientation and an oath to serve again.
Watching these new recruits take that oath at the culmination of a weekend of camaraderie and volunteerism brought back memories of my own oath ceremony taken more than a year ago and the journey I’ve been on since re-enlisting to serve at home. It was a pointed reminder that with support from groups like The Mission Continues we Veterans have the power and the passion to be positive agents of change:
Reconnecting with other Veterans builds a sense of self and belonging.
When you’re discharged from the military, the loss of your unit – your military family – often hits hard. But what can be even harder is figuring out how to acknowledge and honor your military past while building a bridge to the future. In many ways, orientation helps define your new unit. Meeting other Veterans at The Mission Continues helped me find people who understood me: my challenges, my motivators, my desire to serve and my life goals while cultivating that camaraderie and sense of belonging I had when I was in the military.
Rallying around a cause reignites passion and builds community connections.
To change the conversation about Veterans, we can’t be an insular community. While in New York, we volunteered side-by-side with community members to refurbish The League School in Brooklyn, which serves children with developmental disabilities. Through large-scale service projects like this one and through ongoing volunteerism in their own neighborhoods, Veterans are able to build new community connections and learn how to translate military skills into a civilian role.
Pledging to “redeploy” at home creates a sustained sense of fulfillment and purpose.
This oath ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial had special significance. For many of us, this is the site where our journeys truly began. Standing at attention and stating out loud our commitment to serve, honor and enhance our communities, similar as to when we took our military oaths, evokes feelings of being connected as a military family, regardless of which branch we served. By taking the pledge and recommitting to a life of service, we solidify that we are part of a new mission—something greater than ourselves.
As post-9/11 Veterans, we have an opportunity to define the legacy for our generation and we all need to take part in it. I believe that it is the responsibility of every military Veteran to carry on the legacy of our fallen through our actions here at home. By living out their values, we honor their service and through groups like The Mission Continues, we have the chance to show the country that we are assets and not liabilities.
We have an obligation to utilize our unique skills and experiences to help solve the most pressing challenges facing us right here at home. It is our responsibility to pick up where we left off and to reshape our energies into something positive. Join me and the nearly 700 other Veterans across the country as we embark on new missions of service at home.
Ian Smith is a Marine Corps Veteran pursuing a master of social work at the University of Southern California. He completed a six-month service fellowship with The Mission Continues, volunteering at Street Symphony which provides music outreach concerts to the deeply underserved mentally ill living within homeless, incarcerated and veteran communities.