Program Allows Wounded Veterans To Continue Service
(November 10, 2009)
|WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 4, 2009) -- “I lost my legs. That's all. I did not lose my desire to serve, or my pride in being an American.”|
Those words from a wounded warrior recovering at Bethesda Naval Hospital from injuries suffered in Iraq inspired Navy Lt. Eric Greitins and Kenneth Harbaugh to found “the Mission Continues,” a new kind of veterans organization.
|The Mission Continues co-founder and CEO, Lt. Eric Greitins, and current fellow Sgt. Eric Parry lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Oct. 31, 2009.|
|The organization allows wounded or disabled veterans from the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan to become fellows. Once a fellow, the veteran is awarded a monetary grant to cover cost-of-living expenses during a fellowship working with a charitable organization, to provide 40 hours of service weekly for an average of 14 weeks.|
“For all of our Mission Continues fellows, this is a way for them to reconnect to a sense of purpose, to use their strengths when they serve here at home and it really allows them to know also that they are continuing the mission of public service to those who have fallen,” Greitins said.
The Mission Continues serves as a challenge to veterans and can often act as a way to gain skills that can lead to further opportunities, Greitans said. Former fellows that worked with organizations such as Paralyzed Veterans of America and Big Brothers/Big Sisters are currently on their way to become licensed therapists and nurses, he explained.
Inspiration to serve
It was actually not just one veteran that inspired the program, Greitins said. Many hospitalized veterans he met wanted to continue to serve their country, even if they could not remain in the military due to the extent of their injuries.
“As I went through the hospital, I asked each one of them what they wanted to do when they recovered and every one of them said they wanted to return to their unit,” Greitins said. “But it was also clear that a lot of these men were not going to be able to return to their unit right away. So I asked them what else they wanted to do and each of them said they wanted to continue to serve their country somehow.”
“It became very clear to me that day that all of these men had a long stream of visitors coming to say thank you for their service,” he continued. “But they also had to hear we still need you. They had to hear that we had a place for them when they came home and we wanted them to continue to serve. They had to know when they came home they were not a problem. They were an asset.”
Greitins, a Navy SEAL who currently serves in the Reserves, recently returned from Iraq at the time of his hospital visit. He was so inspired by the veterans that he used his combat pay, along with two friends, who also contributed money, to found the Mission Continues.
Honor fallen by living their values
The St. Louis, Mo.,-based organization now has several programs for veterans.
In addition to the fellowship, the Mission Continues also has a program called Veterans Tributes. This program empowers citizens to complete service projects on behalf of fallen servicemembers.
“In that way we help to continue the mission of the fallen by engaging others in service in their name,” Greitins said. “I believe the greatest way to honor those who have fallen is to live their values of service and sacrifice in our own lives.”
The Mission Continues has thousands of volunteers across the country. In the past year alone, they have contributed over 26,000 hours of volunteer service, Greitins said.
Helping others while helping self
Sgt. Eric Parry, a current fellow, was injured in Iraq while serving with the 1st Infantry Division. He was injured during a rocket-propelled grenade attack and he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, sleep apnea, and arthritis.
Parry is volunteering with the Metropolitan Police Girls and Boys Club in Baltimore, Md., and also serves as a youth mentor in the Washington, D.C., area.
“My belief is that we are all here to provide a service and the Mission Continues allows me to do that,” Parry said. “I am able to share my story and see how I'm able to encourage and be apart of someone else's life through my learning and experiences.”
As the organization continues to grow and fellowship applications reach dozens each month, the Mission Continues is looking toward the future, Greitins said.
“In the coming years,” he said, “we want to shape the way our culture welcomes home our veterans.”
Article and photo by Nate D. Herring
Reprinted from Army News Service
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