November 22, 2014
James Pinckney

My decision to leave my active duty family didn’t come lightly. I joined the Marine Corps at 17 and was in boot camp two weeks after my high school graduation. The Marine Corps has been all I’ve know my adult life. The friends, leadership styles and experiences have shaped me into the man and the father I am today.

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For the most part, I loved my time in the Marine Corps, but I promised myself early on to never put anything before my family. So, as soon as my daughter was born and our family started to grow, my wife and I decided it was time for me to transition out of the military.

There have been many times since my decision not to reenlist that I felt like I had abandoned one family for another.

At the time I was discharged, I had been married only a year and our baby girl had just turned two-months old. I had a brand new responsibility – fatherhood. I was doing everything I could to prepare for my new role of supporting my wife and my daughter.

I researched how to best use my 9/11 GI Bill, filed for disability compensation, applied for a VA work-study, enrolled in healthcare, you name it. But in all the rush, I never reflected on the transition itself.

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Two years later, in May 2014, I found myself in a room with 100 other veterans. I was in Washington, D.C. for Fellowship orientation with The Mission Continues. An alum of the fellowship program talked about her time in the service, getting married, and leaving the service. She readily assumed her role as a military spouse, but neglected her identity as a veteran, which she earned through her own years of military service.

I could relate. I was so ready to be a good father and a great husband. But I felt distant from my military family and didn’t associate myself as a veteran.

Earlier this summer I joined The Mission Continues San Diego Service Platoon and other Fellows during a service project at Groundwork San Diego. I decided to take my older daughter. She’s only three years old but loves to help.

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We spent the day painting, planting and building an outdoor environment for children in the community to learn and experience agriculture. At first, my daughter was a little reserved, but she was quickly made to feel like family by the other veterans and their family members who came out.

Every time I would come over to see how she was doing, expecting to be missed, she would ever so politely ask, “Dad, can you please go away?” What could I do? She was happily working hard and amongst family.

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Family is how I can best describe the other veterans I’ve met through The Mission Continues.  I realized I don’t have to choose between my military family and my immediate family. The friends I’ve made with The Mission Continues have encouraged me through struggles that only other veterans understand. I’m a better father, a better husband, and a better person because of it.

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James Pinckney served more than 8 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He joined The Mission Continues as a Bravo Class Fellow in May 2014. He also serves as part of the San Diego Platoon – a team of veterans dedicated to reducing pollution and conserving natural eco systems.