What It Means to Be Today’s Veteran
November 7, 2016
Here at The Mission Continues, we have our own way of honoring Veterans Day. As a veteran service organization whose mission is to empower veterans to serve again in their communities, Veterans Day is one of our biggest opportunities to show the country that veterans can make a positive impact in cities for youth, for the environment, for other veterans, and everyone in between. To this end, we are mustering hundreds of veterans nationwide to serve in all kinds of service projects this Veterans Day weekend, and we invite civilians to come serve alongside us too.
We celebrate Veterans Day not by saying to veterans, “we thank you,” but by saying “we need you.” Part of this shift requires bridging the civilian-veteran gap, a gap we talk about a lot. Veterans are often celebrated and respected but somehow kept at arm’s length and their skills overlooked. Not only that, we are often painted with one broad brush.
So in this post we are going to get to know some kickass veterans — their ambitions, what they like to do, and why they are committed to service. This diverse group of veterans are Fellows and Platoon Leaders, civic leaders who dedicate time to head the charge in making their city a better place, and inspiring others to do so too. They’re all linked in their shared commitment to continued service, but their day-to-day lives are uniquely their own – no broad strokes to be found here.
First up, we asked Joe Whimple a Charlie 2016 Fellow, a little about who he is. As a millennial veteran, Joe is among our nation’s youngest veterans. He is incredibly busy, and enjoys a wide variety of activities on top of work and school. Joe tells us, “In my spare time, I really enjoy bike riding, attending concerts and taking photographs…I’m a busy 23-year-old. I often wish I had more free time to just breathe.”
Joe volunteers at the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides a wide range of programs to assist homeless LGBTQ youth. Connecting with youth and helping them find work is fulfilling in itself, but for Joe, there’s another layer too:
To be honest, I’ve been having plenty of emotional issues since I left the army simply because I miss serving. What I truly yearn for is being a part of a team as well as something greater than myself. The Mission Continues helps me emotionally in ways I cannot describe because it fills a void for me. I have gained so much out of my fellowship, and have met multiple inspiring individuals and fulfilled this sense of longing I have been chasing since leaving the army.
Hermie Castillo, also a Charlie 2016 Fellow, is on a similar path as Joe, as he too is full of energy and is busily building his career. Born in the Philippines, Hermie and his family moved to the United States after his father enlisted in the US Navy. Reflecting on his parents’ journey, he said, “I am grateful for the sacrifices they made to leave their home country and start over in order to give us a better upbringing.”
Just as anyone’s superhero or idol, keeping his parents in mind gives him the drive to push through all the challenges in life. Hermie continues to say, “Whenever I feel discouraged, I remind myself of how they continue to work with no complaints, and that gives me the strength and confidence to push forward and keep going.”
Even at a young age, Hermie knew how hard his parents worked. This inspired Hermie to study engineering in college, enter the Naval Reserve Offers Training Program, and became a commissioned naval officer. Now, Hermie is working hard to set his career in an exciting new direction: acting. Hermie is serving his fellowship at Geffen Playhouse, a nonprofit theater in California. When we asked him about the proudest moment in his civilian life so far, he immediately told us about Geffen.
Last year, I was selected to be part of the first Veterans Project Program at the Geffen Playhouse. We worked for 5 months cultivating our experiences from our lives to share on stage for one night. Having the opportunity to write and perform as part of an ensemble with 14 other veterans, we were able to captivate the community with stories that people may not know about their fellow veterans. The experiences before, during, and after the performance are memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.
When he’s not acting on stage, Hermie seeks other forms of storytelling. He said, “I am very fascinated in hearing people’s stories, especially those who I have not heard of before. Whenever I get the chance, my ears are glued to podcasts where interviews are conducted and the guests share how they came to where they are today, or a particular challenge they had to overcome.”
Another kickass Charlie 2016 Fellow, Ashley Templet is pretty much the farthest thing from an actor. She’s a software engineer! Someday soon she hopes to go into cybersecurity, which she is earning a degree in now. Ashley is serving her fellowship at Operation Spark in New Orleans, LA. This nonprofit empowers youth to pursue a career in software development.
Her life passion for computers has brought her to become involved with groups that are tech-oriented, and it’s pretty cool to hear from Ashley how she is working hard at her fellowship to do what she believes in — spreading the wealth of technological knowledge to give youth and young adults access to a booming career field.
When she’s not volunteering at her host side, Ashley says she spends a lot of time doing “homework, reading, hanging out with the other veteran computer nerds over at Operation Code, or otherwise learning new things.”
While Ashley is involved in the community through Operation Code and The Mission Continues, her veteran identity is kind of a new thing for her. She told us,
I’m really just sort of getting around to identifying myself as a veteran. For a long time, I felt like people used that to define who I was and didn’t see anything past that so I stop defining myself that way. I’m so much more and yet being a veteran is also a huge part of who I am. I also needed time to find out who I was outside of the military. In the end being a veteran is a part of who I am but doesn’t define the whole person.
Within our programs we aim to keep our volunteers varied experiences and individuality in mind. And there are a number of different ways veterans come to find The Mission Continues and there are a number of different ways people can engage with our programs. Each program is meant for veterans with different schedules, skills, interests, and ambitions.
For example, Marine Corps veteran Joey Mac Dizon has a different experience with The Mission Continues than our Fellows. Joey’s first exposure to The Mission Continues was our first ever Mass Deployment in Detroit, called Motown Muster. This past June, Joey was one of 70 other veterans who committed a week of their lives to helping communities in Detroit revitalize their neighborhoods and schools. This is the story, from Joey himself:
I always had the mentality to give back to my community and country. Even though I have worked several charities and events with my church and several organizations, I have never worked with any veteran service organizations.
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to work with the Mission Continues and many other veterans in the city of Detroit! Operation Motown Muster. I was so humbled and thankful to work alongside with those that shared the same uniform as I had. While they might have not been the same uniforms, we were still one big family. A family of blue shirt wearing, hard working, knuckle dragging, salty looking veterans.
Since Motown Muster Joey has joined his local platoon and comes out to projects. While he reflected on his volunteer experience, we asked Joey, “Why do you continue to serve?”
I continue to serve because others continue to serve. And if they continue to give back to our communities and nation, then I will always be alongside my brothers and sisters. I will never be a person watching from the stands while others are busting their butts. I want to be in that arena because that is where I belong.
Joey’s response is powerful and genuine. For many of us who serve, this describes something deeper in our character. We can’t sit and watch others step up to the plate alone, we simply can’t; we are compelled to help too. That instinct that makes us work alongside our fellow veterans just doesn’t go away when we leave the military.
So in a sense, this characteristic is unique to Joey, but also unique to all of the dedicated veterans who volunteer at service projects, at Mass Deployment, in their Fellowships, and beyond.
One last amazing person we’d like to introduce is Monique Rodriguez. Monique was also at Motown Muster, and is currently the Platoon Leader for the Houston 5th Platoon. Like Joey, she too looks back at Motown Muster with fondness. She made friends that she still keeps in touch with, and she said, “they continue to motivate and inspire me to continue the great work.”
Monique has a master’s in social work, and intends to dedicate her career to helping others. But it wasn’t easy getting to this point. She said, “I earned my degree online; staying up late, spending time away from my family, and juggling family, school, and work life for three straight years.” Monique has worked hard, and is in an exciting time when she gets to start a new job, one that she is really pumped about.
I will be starting next week at the University of Texas Health Science Center in their Stress, Trauma, and Recovery Services (STARS) Clinic. I will be able to diagnose, treat, and research PTSD among both civilians and veterans.
As Clinic Manager, I will also be responsible for growing the clinic to attract more veterans to seek services there as well as make the clinic veteran friendly by training the staff on the military culture and create a veteran friendly environment. I look forward to the opportunity to continue serving veterans in such an impactful way.
We asked Monique, when you’re not working or serving with your platoon, what are you most likely doing?
Friday evenings and all day Sundays are typically my “off” days and I focus my attention on my family, my husband of 8 years with my two boys, 6 and 4 years old. We go out to eat, attend birthday parties, take our boys to family fun places or the movies.
Also, I serve as Co-Chair for the Women Veterans Empowerment Expo, a one day event serving 150 women Veterans last year with plans to grow the event this year. I’ve served on the committee for three years but this is my first year as Co-Chair.
Getting a glimpse into Monique’s life is all it takes to see what motivates her. For Monique, helping other veterans comes in the form of her chosen career and her outside activities. But she’s also raising a family, and that is also an important part of her life, and part of her story.
We’ve heard the stories of just a handful of veterans out of hundreds who have volunteered with us. The ones you heard in this post have vastly different interests and ambitions, and of course, personalities. When you look at us together you can see the beauty of all this lies in the fact that veterans are a dynamic demographic who cannot and should not be painted with a broad brush or seen as one type of person. We are artists, engineers, parents, spouses, athletes and bookworms, and live in every corner of the country.
There is, of course, two things these individuals have in common: they are awesome people, and they are dedicated civic leaders. If you’re at all interested in joining our crew of kickass veterans who get things done and make a difference, our Veterans Day service projects in cities around the country is a great way to start. We welcome veterans to bring their friends and family too, and newcomers are always welcome. Come out to roll up your sleeves and work alongside some lively and hard working folks!
To report for duty in your community with The Mission Continues on Veterans Day weekend, find a service event near you!
You can also serve with a Service Platoon at an upcoming service event near you or apply for a fellowship. You can learn more about our programs on our website and stay updated on the latest news and announcements on Facebook and twitter.