Mr. Eric Greitens
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning as the Founder and CEO of The Mission Continues. The Mission Continues challenges veterans to serve and lead in communities across America.
We believe that any system that is designed to create successful transitions for veterans, will only work if veterans are first recognized for the immense abilities that they bring back to their communities. We have learned that by focusing on these strengths, despite some of the most severe disabilities, we can facilitate successful transitions from warrior to citizen.
As a Navy SEAL, I served four tours in the Global War on Terrorism. On my last deployment in Iraq, my unit was hit by a suicide truck bomb. I was treated at the Fallujah surgical hospital and returned to full duty 72 hours later, but some of my friends - some of whom were standing an arms length from me - were hurt far worse than I was.
When I returned home, I visited them and went to Bethesda Naval Hospital to visit other wounded Marines. As all of you know, when you meet with our wounded service members, you are often talking with young men and women, the balance of their lives still before them. I asked each of them about their units, their hometowns, their deployments, and when I asked, “What do you want to do when you recover?” Each one of them said, “I want to return to my unit.” Their bodies had been injured, but their spirit of service had endured.
My experience at Bethesda that day was not unique. In a recent survey of post-9/11 veterans, 92% strongly agreed or agreed that serving their community is important to them.
At The Mission Continues we create successful transitions by engaging returning veterans to continue their service by engaging them in six-month fellowships at nonprofit and public service organizations in their communities: an Army specialist from the 82nd Airborne now trains service dogs for the disabled; a Marine Corps sergeant now builds home with Habitat for Humanity; an enlisted airman who now serves her fellowship as a support attendant at a women’s shelter. During their Fellowships, our veterans are provided with stipends, mentors, and broad curriculum to achieve one of three post-Fellowship goals. They go on to full-time employment, full-time education, or participate in an ongoing role of service in their communities. To date, we have awarded Fellowships to 255 post-9/11 veterans, who have served with 168 organizations across the country.
For example, in Mississippi County, Anthony Smith served his Fellowship working with under-privileged youth. In 2004, Anthony was serving as a major in the Army when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. After spending 64 days in a medically induced coma, he awoke to find that he was blind in one eye, had lost his right arm underneath the elbow, and that parts of his leg, hip and spinal cord were damaged. Like many of the veterans that we work with, his transition was difficult, and he started to doubt whether or not he was needed here at home.
After Anthony became a Mission Continues Fellow, he found a renewed sense of purpose. Through his Fellowship, Anthony is using martial arts to mentor at-risk youth. Daily, dozens students from his community enter Anthony’s dojo. Using pushups, modeling patience, and teaching self-control, Anthony teaches lessons in his community everyday.
In two independent research reports, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University has found that nearly 80% of the participants in our program felt that serving in the community had a positive effect on their future employability, performance, and promotion, or that it instigated them to make a career change. In fact, 86% of participants reported transferring their military skills to civilian employment and 100% of Fellows reported that they will probably or definitely stay involved in volunteer activities and public service in the future.
Mr. Chairmen and Members present, the story of this generation of veterans is still being written. We have a tendency to rely on PTSD figures, unemployment statistics, and suicide rates to tell us how our veterans are transitioning from the military to civilian life. But these statistics do not tell the whole story. These statistics do not capture a veteran’s desire to continue to serve and the willingness to lead in communities upon their return.
They do not tell the story of Jake, a former Marine who now coordinates rescue missions to international disasters; or April, the Army veteran from Chicago, who serves as a mentor to refugee children in the classroom. Across America, veterans are serving again. In fact, the majority of the members in this committee have Mission Continues Fellows serving in their district or neighboring districts. And last year, with our Fellows as examples, The Mission Continues engaged over 15,000 Americans to spend a day of service with veterans in their communities. Our Mission Continues Fellows are enduring leaders who have overcome pain and turned it to wisdom. They are veterans whose commitment to our country did not end on the battlefield.
In order for veterans to transition successfully, communities across America must begin to recognize the service they still have to give. We believe that when the story of this generation of veterans is written, it will not only be a story of the wars they have fought overseas; it will also be a story of the homes built, the parks restored, the young minds engaged by veterans whose mission continues here at home.
Mr. Chairman, we are grateful for your support and the support of this Subcommittee. I would welcome any questions that you or other Members may have. Thank you.