A Message to Student Veterans: Never Stop Serving
August 25, 2014
Barry Mattson is a veteran of the US Air Force and the US Army, with a combat deployment to Iraq in each service. He is now the Regional Director at The Mission Continues, Houston office, where his passion for fighting poverty is matched with his appreciation for veterans.
In this post, Barry answers the question “How can our nation ensure that veterans don’t need to return to the military in order to find a meaningful sense of purpose?”
When I left the Air Force in 2006, I used business school as the avenue to my transition out of the military. Earning an MBA seemed to be the perfect way to learn how to translate my military experiences to civilian roles, gain some business exposure during a summer internship, and find a full-time job upon graduation. I found that higher education gave me the skills I needed to do just that. Little did I know, four years later I would volunteer for the Army and a second combat deployment to Iraq.
In the interim, something was missing. For me, it was the core value of “service before self,” which had been ingrained in me as young cadet. It was the camaraderie of the brothers beside me in our combat patrols north of Baghdad. It was leading men and women toward a common goal higher than profit. It was the mission. I hadn’t found these things in commodities trading after my transition. My story isn’t unique. It happens every day. How can our nation ensure that veterans don’t need to return to the military in order to find a meaningful sense of purpose?
Over the next five years, 1.5 million veterans will return to civilian life. Many of them will attend school full time, but transition out of the military is a complex endeavor that reaches beyond education alone. However, to the question posed above, the answer is simple: join a new mission and a new unit. Never stop serving.
At The Mission Continues, we advocate volunteerism and community service as the vehicle that will boost a student veteran’s transition. Our Service Platoons and Fellowship Program both complement the university experience nicely. Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) reviewed a wealth of literature in May 2013 on the benefits of community service for veterans. The IVMF findings show not only is service good for veterans because it benefits their transition, but veterans are also well suited to tackle community issues due to valuable skills and leadership acquired in the military. Additionally, the attributes veterans possess make them well suited to contribute to their communities as compassionate, dependable leaders. This service then becomes mutually beneficial to the impact on local communities and the student veteran’s university experience
Student veterans across the country are already building camaraderie with a network of motivated veterans from all generations in our Service Platoon program. In 25 cities, teams of 60-90 veterans are impacting their local communities by addressing issues such as hunger, homelessness, and at-risk youth development.
In the Fellowship Program, over 60% of our veterans are current students. This program allows student veterans to apply the lessons from their classes immediately to real world missions. Rashod Moten, a former Navy Corpsman, is a student at University of Houston Downtown and serves as a Mission Continues Fellow at the Wesley Community Center. There he applies his psychology studies to teach basic education skills to underprivileged laborers. On top of this, Rashod has stepped up to become a squad leader in Houston’s 1st Service Platoon, focused on youth mentorship and education. Many similar stories exist nationwide as student veterans apply their studies to practical experience, which strengthens their resumes while impacting the causes of their choice.
Such student veterans in our fellowship program are forward thinking. They develop an action plan for life beyond their six-month fellowship. A longitudinal survey conducted by Washington University’s Brown School showed that through service at The Mission Continues, 84% of veterans achieve their goals of full time employment, pursuit of higher education, or continued service. While learning the skills of their trade or industry in their studies, 91% of our veterans report that they have increased their professional networks due to their involvement with The Mission Continues.
The Mission Continues will continue to elevate the importance of partnerships with institutions of higher education. Currently, I am collaborating with the Chairman of the University of Houston’s board and their veterans program to increase involvement of student veterans at each of their campuses. Our New York team is working with the Harvard Kennedy School to evaluate the impact of our Service Platoons. Our President, Spencer Kympton, joined Houston Mayor Annise Parker and General Stanley McChrystal at Harvard’s Institute of Politics panel, “Ask What You Can Do For America’s Veterans.” Tyler Thompson, an Army armor crewman, recently completed his fellowship at Wright State University’s Veteran and Military Center, where he has since been offered employment.
Involving student veterans in our programs, conducting thoughtful research, engaging in thought leadership, and placing Fellows at universities are among the many ways The Mission Continues partners with institutions of higher learning. As more returning veterans become students, they must shape their own transition narrative. They don’t need to rejoin the military to find renewed purpose. Today, veterans are empowered to rediscover meaningful service alongside their brothers and sisters in our communities here at home. I’m confident that America has a bright future as we see this generation of veterans building successful transitions and leaving a positive legacy of continued service, personal success, and leadership in our communities and universities.