Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Houston Mission Continues Experience, by Christopher Paparis

When I touched down in Houston, after a long day spent at the airport, it was a joy to have those dedicated Mission Continues staffers waiting for myself and a few other TMC fellows to pick us up. They were polite, friendly, and inviting.  

The introductions of the TMC staff were well underway when we arrived at the hotel. Unfortunately, we missed Eric Greiten speak and he was not available for a meet-and-greet for the rest of the week. Jim Robbins was very helpful and he accepted the Operation College Promise challenge coin on behalf of Eric with the promise of giving it to him in a manner befitting its importance.  In return he handed me a challenge coin of The Mission Continues, which made my face light up like a kid on Christmas morning.  Friday night wrapped up with a pleasant introductory dinner and some light networking at the hotel refreshment stand.
Saturday was by far the most important event. It was the event. We had a brief orientation in the morning concerning demolition and clean-up activity at Cristo Rey Jesuit, a small private school  with an intelligent mission:  It seeks to empower high school-age kids that would otherwise lack the resources to be adequately prepared and for college. The school has a unique program that focuses on a four day school week, with the fifth day being spent in an internship with a local company that provides the youth access to skills that may not be available in the public school. The additional specialness of this program is that it greatly subsidizes the cost of the education for the student, as they effectively pay their own tuition through the work-study program.

The work was simple but strenuous. We laughed, we didn’t cry, no one complained, someone almost put a nail through their hand, and we laughed some more. The focus on teamwork and fun was ever-present. Conversations flowed easily and freely between the fellows and staffers.  The sense of camaraderie was always there, it just needed an opportunity to be expressed. Here it was. The Mission Continues’ orientation had a reformative affect, rather than a transformative one. It uncovered and bolstered the sense of duty and commitment we possessed as soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. It invigorated our resolve to serve. We saw ourselves reflected in the ambition and selflessness of one another and it gave concreteness to our decision not only to join The Mission Continues, but also our dedication to mission of the programs we chose to participate with in our home states.

Sunday allowed us a small opportunity to speak with other fellows and pass along our elevator-speeches. A particular fellow was interested in acting as a liaison between the higher-tier colleges and veterans. This was particularly interesting because it was a small point of discussion at the OCP retreat, in which we toyed with the idea of making private schools more accessible to the veteran-student.  In summation, I love Texas; I can’t wait to go back. The Mission Continues lived up to my expectations of espirit-de-corps and further innervated my desire to start working with Operation CollegePromise.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Accepting the Challenge - My Mission Continues Orietation By Brian Harriett

The Mission Continues Orientation – St Louis
Charlie Class 2013

Day One (Friday, 19 July):  Traveling to St Louis for a scorching, but rewarding orientation for the Mission Continues (MC) Fellowship.  It’s going to be a hot one, and we’re getting special permission to wear shorts and hats for our service project at an inner city elementary school.  18 folks from the northeast sector (out of 82 total), but I’m the only one flying in from Philly – go figure.  Let’s get it on! BH

Day Two (Saturday, 20 July):  Arrived ok, met some ‘fellow’ fellows in the St Louis airport while waiting for the bus – more folks than I thought have been out about 8 to 10 years and felt the same yearning to come back to the veteran thing that I do.  Picked up and whisked to the Sheraton (nice) where we had several mixers and made lots of new acquaintances, both upstairs and down in the lobby bar.  Lots of folks with stories to tell - felt very much at home.  Got to chat up some folks about Operation College Promise (OCP) and how we were able to link up with Texas A&M to reach out to more veterans about their educational benefits.  As a side benefit, a number of the ‘fellows’ gave me their information on colleges they were working with – Ohio State, etc.  We’re merging the professionals who have completed OCP’s Certificate for Veterans’ Service Providers training with the A&M Military Friendly Listserv.  Details are in this link, check it out:

“Working Hard” as the MC core values state.  Everyone was fired up for the service project at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club.  Had nearly 400 volunteers from Boeing, Fox Sports Midwest and even the STL Cardinals mascot!  Went great, although I got paint on my desert boots – hope it cleans up...  Had a great BBQ dinner at Boeing!  Was tired, but they had a great museum including a mockup of the Gemini space capsule – too small for me to fit in… BH

Day Three (Sunday, 21 July):  Very excited, after meeting many alumni of the program who told us their individual stories, (the MC headquarters is in St Louis so we the opportunity to meet the staff and see their digs).  The first ever Mark Weber Legacy award was presented to a deserving past fellow.  The award was named after Lt Col Weber, who mentored the MC fellows, even as he was given six months to live with stage four cancer.  His oldest son Matthew spoke with us and presented the award – not a dry eye in the house but very motivating. Even more pumped up to get back to Trenton and start at OCP.  Headed out soon to Busch Stadium to catch the Cardinal/Padres game – best part, getting to take our MC oath on the field before the game! It was very cool to take some pics on the field (see my tweets at #brianharriett or #missioncontinues). BH

Days Ahead (Wednesday, 24 July):  Started today at OCP.  What a great group!  Got to regale them will stories from St Louis – what a motivating experience, I highly recommend it to everyone.  Time to hit the road and begin the challenge!  BH

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Got Your 6 - Connecting the Pillars

Connecting the Pillars - Marvin Cadet
Jobs. Education. Health. Housing. Family. Leadership. –the six pillars that Got Your 6 focuses on in regards to veteran reintegration. Through this framework, GY6 and its non-profit partners demonstrate that veterans are leaders and, in fact, still have more to give to their country. In the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to this effort in a very unique way.
This past May, I was sworn into the 2013 Bravo Class of The Mission Continues. As a class, we made a commitment to making a positive impact in our communities by upholding the values we learned during our military service. The Mission Continues falls in in the leadership pillar of GY6.
Through The Mission Continues, I have connected with Operation College Promise (OCP), which is where I am serving my fellowship. OCP falls in the education pillar of GY6 and is a national education, research and policy initiative supporting the transition and postsecondary advancement of veterans and servicemembers. They support veteran service providers across the country with training and best practices for serving the contemporary veteran population.
Through OCP, I was given the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Give an Hour.  Give an Hour, which falls in the health pillar of GY6, is a non-profit organization that provides free mental health services to veterans and their families that were affected by the on-going efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of the work that they do is volunteer-based and they have a lot of amazing people that have stepped up to the plate to help veterans and their families.
This past June, Give an Hour screened a documentary film and followed it with a panel discussion featuring a combat veteran along with a mental service professional. The film was titled Hell and Back Again. It followed a young Marine Sergeant and the challenges he faced when returning home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
As an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran myself, the film touched on a lot of the same experiences I had upon coming from theater. The main one that comes to mind is the feeling that life in a war-zone is so much easier than the civilian world because of the sense of purpose that comes with carrying out a mission. Hell and Back Again was very well put together and is a must see for anyone who wants a better understanding of today’s veteran.
The work that the above-mentioned non-profit organizations are doing for veterans, with the support of GY6 is amazing, and I am very grateful to be a part of it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Honor Flight Experience

The Honor Flight Philadelphia Experience - By Marvin Cadet
I volunteered on behalf of Operation College Promise and the Got Your 6 campaign to photograph the Honor Flight Philadelphia. Honor Flight is an effort to give World War II veterans the welcome home they didn’t receive when they came back from serving our nation.
On June 15, 2013, 6 buses loaded with 150 World War II veterans and volunteer guardians were loaded up from Springfield, PA and convoyed down to Washington D.C to view the World War II Memorial. Along the way we made some amazing stops for these heroes.
The first stop on the itinerary was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where we got the opportunity to watch the changing of the guard ceremony. The soldiers involved in the ceremony skid there leg one time during the ceremony in recognition of the presence of the greatest generation of veterans.
Next, was the Women’s Memorial where the first female Brigadier General paid tribute to four women veterans that were part of our group for their service during the war. We also got to see the Air Force Memorial. Next to the Air Force memorial is the area of the Pentagon that was attacked during 9/11.
Seeing the Lincoln Memorial, I think was the highlight for me. The Civil War is one of the most noteworthy points in American history. The energy around the Lincoln Memorial was unbelievable - true reminder of how far we have come as a nation. Around this Memorial, you can also find the Vietnam as well the Korean War Memorial. Some of the volunteer guardians were actually veterans of these war efforts and were very touched by the sentiment.
The World War II Memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and was dedicated on Saturday, May 29, 2004. Honor Flight surprised their veterans with a visit from family members they haven’t seen in a while at the Memorial.
Upon reentering Pennsylvania, state police stopped traffic on the highway. There was an escort for the buses provided by the American Legion Riders. The fire departments for respected towns on the way to Springfield were on the bridges with flags flying high to pay respect to these heroes. Swoops, the Philadelphia Eagles masco, made an appearance along with some Eagles cheerleaders.
The day was capped off with dinner and a performance by The Manhattan Dolls. It was a great day and a great experience. Honor Flight is a program that takes place all over the country. Anyone can volunteer to be a guardian for a World War II veteran and spend the day engaging in great camaraderie.
Check out their website at and if you’re interested, become a guardian.