The Importance of Our Mission
I was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. In 2004, I broke both of my legs, my arm, my foot, and shattered my face, in a helicopter crash near the Afghan-Pakistan border. I did damage to many other parts of my body and would require 10 surgeries and four years of recovery, before being medically retired from the Army.
The first Christmas after my injuries, I received a $500 check in the mail from a non-profit that supports wounded service members. I found this odd because the check was unsolicited, and quite frankly, I didn’t need it. I had no idea how these people got my name, address, or story. I started to wonder: Was this some sort of compensation for my broken bones? Was it a reward for crawling out of a destroyed helicopter?
It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the gesture; I just didn’t understand the purpose. If I had been in credit card debt or struggling to buy groceries, then I might have understood. If I were raising a family and had lost my source of income, I would have seen a reason for the financial assistance. But I was single, I owned my car and my home, and I was still being paid an active duty salary. I didn’t need the money.
I ended up re-donating the $500 to another charity, but the sentiment stuck with me. Then, in 2007 when I heard someone on the radio talking about helping wounded veterans to volunteer in their communities, my feelings came full circle. This was what I had been looking for—not charity, but a challenge.
In the military, everyone—even a Private fresh out of training—is a leader; everyone is charged with caring for the person next to them. As an officer, I was charged with caring for an entire platoon of soldiers. When I was wounded, that charge—that purpose—was taken away, instantaneously. I had no soldiers to lead, no helicopters to fly. I had lost my sense of purpose.
The same thing happens to those who aren’t wounded, just not as quickly. When a service member departs from duty and moves toward the civilian world, many find that there is a little something missing. Some are able to regain their purpose through school or a new job. Others flounder and struggle with the transition.
I regained my sense of purpose through participation in service. I followed up with the man I had heard on the radio, and I began volunteering with The Mission Continues—most weeks I donated 35 or 40 hours. I was also spreading the message to other wounded veterans that they could regain their sense of purpose through volunteering and service.
Now it’s time for the rest of our veterans to embrace this message. In order to do that, our communities must embrace it as well. Veterans are assets to our nation. They are highly adaptable leaders, driven to achieve and support those around them. But when veterans face challenges, sometimes our communities are too quick to offer handouts.
It is true that we must take time to thank our veterans for their service. But the next time you do, also take some time to ask them how they plan to continue serving. What’s next in their life? Maybe it is a degree or a job search. Maybe it’s a chance to serve and a chance to re-instill a sense of purpose. As strong communities, and as a nation, we have the capacity to challenge these veterans.
ServiceNation: Mission Serve is working to create opportunities that will allow veterans and military families to join civilian communities through volunteering and service. Mission Serve is demonstrating to the private sector that veterans who have served after the military are transitioning faster and better to the civilian workforce. And Mission Serve is challenging veterans to not let their commitment to service end when they depart from the military.
My good friend Eric Greitens—a combat wounded Navy SEAL and founder of The Mission Continues—says, “When you challenge someone, you are telling them that you believe in them.” So, please believe in our veterans; please believe in me.
Chris Marvin works with ServiceNation as the Deputy Director of Mission Serve. He was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and platoon leader in Afghanistan. He was medically retired from the Army as a Captain after more than seven years on active duty. Chris holds a BBA from Notre Dame and an MBA from The Wharton School. He lives with his wife and daughter in Philadelphia.blog comments powered by Disqus