October 9, 2014
Oliver Gould

Phoenix Platoon

Dozens of Mission Continues Platoon Members formed up into teams and spread out across back alleys in the early morning darkness. Flashlight beams picked out shoes and lumpy sleeping bags poking out from behind dumpsters and under piles of debris. On closer inspection these dark forms became homeless men and women, many of them veterans, camped out on the back streets of Phoenix. The Platoon Members surveyed them one by one, learning about their needs so that a coalition of local agencies could find them housing and support to get back on their feet.

When I joined 1st Platoon Phoenix for their first service mission last year, our impact was obvious – 80 veterans were on the way to getting off the streets by the end of the night. But The Mission Continues is not just about veterans having an impact on their communities; it’s also about service having an impact on veterans. My job at The Mission Continues is to measure that impact.

The Mission Continues is leading the first ever research into the potential benefits of continued service for veterans who participate in our programs. Working with researcher Dr. Monica Matthieu and the Center for Social Development at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, The Mission Continues launched an evaluation of the Fellowship Program in 2010. Veterans completed surveys before and after their six months of service, and the research team tracked changes over time.

Dr. Matthieu’s team has already published six research briefs showing that the Fellowship Program has a significant impact on the veterans who participate. 93% of Fellows are either employed full-time or enrolled in full-time education within six months of completing the program. 91% report that the program increased their professional network, 86% report that the program helped them become a leader in their community, and 78% report having a stronger attachment to their community as a whole.

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Thanks to research like this, we know that the members of 1st Platoon Phoenix weren’t just helping the homeless that night – they were helping themselves as well. When veterans come together in service, they expand their networks, develop skills, and build deeper connections with their communities. That’s not just theory – we can measure it. We can prove it.

This research is just the beginning. Dr. Matthieu’s team is aiming to publish additional results in peer-reviewed journals by the end of the year. We are working with organizations like the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Center for New American Security to publish new models for veteran reintegration. We are expanding our evaluation program to include the new Service Platoons, with over 500 Platoon Members participating in our impact evaluation as of August of 2014.

Our promise is to empower veterans to serve their country in new ways. It’s a mission that demands excellence. We’re committed to meeting that challenge – in thought as well as action.

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Oliver Gould is the strategy & research specialist at The Mission Continues.