September 12, 2014
Regan Turner

On the morning of September 11, 2001, 221 passengers and crew boarded airplanes bound for Los Angeles, unaware that in just a few short hours the world would change forever, and that they would never reach their final destination. At the time, I was a senior in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, uncertain of the significance of the World Trade Center Towers or even where they stood.

Four years later, by then having gazed solemnly at the gaping hole at Ground Zero in New York City, I was tasked to lead Marines across the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan in pursuit of the terrorists behind the attacks of 9/11. A year after that, I sat and sipped chai tea with villagers in Iraq who tried to convince me that the United States had planned the 9/11 attacks as a motive to invade their country, while I silently prayed that my Marines and I would evade the next roadside bomb and make it home safely to ours. Luckily, we did.

Los Angles_1Los Angeles is poised to become a national leader in how to support and empower veterans / Photo Credit

Today, on the morning of September 12, 2014, 92 veterans of America’s post-9/11 military will board airplanes, also bound for Los Angeles, about to embark on a new mission here at home. That mission, not unlike the one of service to our nation that they each undertook in the military, is one of continued public service to their community as new Fellows in The Mission Continues Fellowship Program.

Over the course of the weekend, these men and women will work alongside volunteers from Bad Robot, Omaze, the Wasserman Foundation and others to renovate and transform the campus of Good Shepherd, a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. These veterans will then raise their right hand once again, and take an oath of public service and positive community impact before returning to their hometowns.

Once back home, these veterans will commit to volunteer for 20 hours each week over the next six months at a non-profit organization aligned with their passions and civic interests as newly minted Mission Continues Fellows. Some of these Fellows are veterans who call the Los Angeles area home and will perform their public service here locally. Nicole Nelson, a Marine Corps veteran, will volunteer her time with patients at Los Robles Hospital, while Tiffany Wesley, an Army veteran, will work with The Writers Guild Foundation, exploring ways to help more veterans enter the entertainment industry.

These veterans, as well as my platoon of Marines and I, all had our own unique military experiences. But we have emerged together as a part of a larger population of Americans who consider themselves wartime veterans. In fact, our status as post-9/11 veterans ranks us among the more than 2.5 million Americans who served in two of our nation’s longest wars. Many of these men and women have made successful transitions to careers or educational opportunities beyond the military, but for some, the challenges of integration into civilian life – or finding a meaningful career – have only just begun.

In many ways, Los Angeles is the ideal city in which to convene these new Mission Continues Fellows from around the nation. In fact, it is at the forefront of cities that are identifying troubles that veterans face and transforming them into opportunities for solutions.

L.A.’s prominent position in addressing these issues begins with the example set by its leader, Mayor Eric Garcetti, who in the summer of 2014, made two bold pledges to address the needs of the veterans of America’s second largest city.

First, in June as part of an initiative called “10,000 Strong”, Mayor Garcetti pledged that the city would dedicate $9 million to assist veterans with finding employment. In partnership with dozens of major companies like CBS, Disney, Wells Fargo, Medtronic, and others, he made clear that by the end of 2017, employers in L.A. would hire no fewer than 10,000 veterans and transitioning members of America’s Armed Forces.

Next, and perhaps more audacious, Mayor Garcetti appeared with First Lady Michelle Obama in July and pledged to end veterans homelessness in Los Angeles by the end of 2015. This is no small feat, considering that Los Angeles County is home to the largest population of homeless veterans in the United States, an estimated 6,300 at last count, over 2,600 of whom live in the City of Los Angeles.

Mayor Garcetti – a Navy Reservist himself – has taken on two of the most difficult issues facing veterans, not only in Los Angles, but nationwide. But he’s not in this fight alone, and by all accounts the Los Angeles community is rising to meet these challenges in a number of ways.

First, Los Angeles has incredible private-sector leadership from companies like Disney and Activision, both great partners of The Mission Continues. These companies are not only investing significant resources toward hiring veterans in their own corporations, but are educating other organizations on how to hire veterans more effectively.

Next, the city has tremendous thought leadership from academic institutions like the University of Southern California (USC), host to the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) and the new Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) program, the first of its kind across the country. Once a month, the USC CIR brings stakeholders together from around Los Angeles at the L.A. Veterans Collaborative to discuss pressing issues and innovative solutions for veterans in the areas of housing, employment, and behavioral health, among others. Later this month, the CIR will release a much-anticipated survey – perhaps the most robust study of its kind in the nation – of the veterans of Los Angeles County, designed to identify the demographics and needs of the local veteran population.

Finally, because Los Angeles is home to Hollywood and the entertainment industry, thoughtful organizations have formed to help ensure that veterans and military families are portrayed by Hollywood as leaders and civic assets, and that these individuals have a voice in the industry. Two of the most prominent groups, Got Your 6 and Veterans in Film & Television are now bringing producers and policymakers to the table in Los Angeles to help influence public opinion toward veterans, as well as help ensure that veterans appear on both the production and performance side of the camera.

Amidst all of this, The Mission Continues is leading the way to assist veterans in Los Angeles with their transitions, while helping to solve some of the city’s most pressing social issues. In addition to being home to several Mission Continues Fellows, L.A. has two Mission Continues Service Platoons, with plans to expand our impact and reach through a total of six Service Platoons across the greater Los Angeles area by the end of 2015.

 Join Platoon_1170Service Platoons mobilize veterans in a community to help solve local challenges.

Here in Los Angeles, 1st Platoon L.A. is focused on youth development and education, and recently volunteered at the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center to renovate its facilities and enable the center to better serve the children of the neighborhood.   Second Platoon Los Angeles launched earlier this month, and is now enlisting new members to join its ranks.

Through the combined efforts of The Mission Continues, Los Angeles’ city leadership, and an incredible network of public and private partners and advocates, our city is poised to become a national leader in addressing the issues facing America’s veterans and military families. Our combined goal is that on this September 11, and for every one to come, the legacy of our generation of veterans is one that lived through the attacks of 9/11, overcame tremendous obstacles abroad and at home, and raised our hands to volunteer once again in our communities to live out a lifetime of service.

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Regan Turner is a regional director with The Mission Continues. He is a veteran of the United State Marine Corps and is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School.