Nine years ago I stepped on to the court at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Col. at halftime during a Denver Nuggets game and in front of a bunch of fans, mostly Golden State fans, I took an oath.
It was an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; to obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
I had some idea of what it meant, but to be completely honest, I had no idea. I had very few family members who were military, and everything I knew about it came from my recruiter, and we all know what that means.
During my years in the military I learned a lot about both the military and myself. I learned personal responsibility, integrity, the true meaning of “having each others back.” I learned many things that would stay with me for life. It broke my heart when my husband and I decided it would be best for ONE of us to make a career out of it, and with much hesitation we decided it would be him.
I thought that I could at least hold on to the military through him. It would be part of my life through him, and then he returned from Iraq with a laundry list of things that landed him in the hospital and various doctor’s appointments.
Our world slowly shattered as the doctors discovered more and more was wrong with him, and ultimately the decision was made that he couldn’t continue with a career in the military either. His health continued to decline, and I poured myself into making him better. That was my new mission, to make him better, to encourage him to continue fighting. I didn’t lose him in combat, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him stateside.
Three years after his medical retirement we finally have him in a place where he is stable, mostly. We have had a few snafus, and of course he will always carry the weight of combat on his shoulders, but he doesn’t need me like he did when he first got home, or even how he did last year. This left me broken, spending everyday searching for the pieces, and trying to piece them together with no avail. It seems as though the better he gets the worse off I am. I want to hold on. My mission, my sense of purpose and direction has been defined for so long, and suddenly it just wasn’t anymore. I didn’t have my Military service, I didn’t have to pour myself into my husbands care.
Then, I found The Mission Continues. The Mission Continues, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was founded in 2007 after CEO Eric Greitens returned home from service in Iraq as a Navy SEAL. Upon his return, Eric visited with wounded Marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Without exception, each Marine expressed an unwavering desire to continue serving his country, even if he could no longer do so in the military. One young Marine even said this: “I lost my legs – that is all. I did not lose my desire to serve, or my pride in being an American.” Inspired, Eric used his own combat pay and two friends pitched in their military disability checks to found The Mission Continues.
Excited about finding my own purpose again, I filled out all my paperwork, was accepted into the program and jumped on a plane to Chicago for Charlie class orientation. On the way there, I sat next to a Wounded Warrior Project Alumnus who knows my husband. He was going to the program, too.
He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face and said to me, “Spouses can come too?"
That is the moment when it occurred to me that I had lost my own identity, the pride I once carried being a Soldier just wasn’t there anymore, and I did this to myself. I let the things my husband was going through overshadow me.
That weekend with The Mission Continues changed my life. Being in the presence of 103 other Veterans who were just like me, all not knowing where we fit but all determined to help each other find out.
The atmosphere in the room was one that would prevent anyone from ever knowing we had all just met -- the laughter, the smiling faces, and even the branch specific jokes carried on all weekend.
On Saturday we set out on a 103 person detail. It sucked -- bad. It was hot, and there was a ton of garbage on the lot we were cleaning. The particular area I was in we named “Diaper Valley.” I am sure you can piece that one together without much explanation.
But we came together and got the job done, and at the end of the day we all remembered that feeling we got being in the Military -- the exhaustion, being so dirty you can’t tell if you got a tan or you just need bath, and the pride that comes from completing what you set out to do. It was hands on reaffirmation that we all still had skills valuable to our communities.
One week ago I stepped on to Wrigley Field just before the Cubs vs. Cardinals game, and one more time alongside my brothers and sisters, we took this oath:
"We are Fellows of The Mission Continues. As Fellows, our personal service did not end with our military service, but has only just begun. We are citizen leaders, committed to making a positive impact in our community, by upholding the values we learned through our military service. We pledge to work hard, both selflessly, and joyously. Trust will always be our foundation. As we serve, we will learn, grow, and always respect everybody unconditionally. We will do all of this because we are Fellows, and our mission continues."
Was there ever a time when you thought you didn't know your purpose? What helped you overcome that feeling?