STORIES THAT SERVE: Veteran contributions do not end when their service contract does.

Many Americans do not start their adult life identifying a set of core values to live by before the age of 20, let alone by the age of 40.  For those who have served our country, the process of entering time in service includes swearing to abide by the core values set by that particular branch. In the Navy and Marine Corps, Honor Courage and Commitment is the cadence. In the Army, LDRSHP highlights values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor Integrity, and Personal Courage. At an early age, no matter Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Navy, indoctrination into a culture of respect and commitment to their team is everything. This occurs during a key stage of personality development in the brain. During this time in service, work and play intermingle and those beside them is where their loyalty lies.

Today, many of those who have served in the United States Armed Forces still carry those values as unconscious threads throughout their decision-making process. There is no code of conduct guiding their civilian lives, but that part of their character that may have formed years ago is still there. Not only values, but response approaches in times of need or crisis. As we all know, there has been a significant increase of those in need across our region and nation. Those who were just getting by were ill equipped and began drowning within a noticeably short window of time as measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 were implemented.

In this season, many community members have stepped up to give more of themselves than one might have assumed they even had to give, and all according to each one’s unique skills and abilities. Because of the values instilled early on, many of those stepping up in big and small ways include former service members. These military veterans stepped right into the pressure, began locking arms with others and lifting as one – despite circumstances and without hesitation.

One accessible way many have chosen to serve is similar to United States Marine Corps veteran, Chris Phillips.  She did not want to see her elderly neighbor at risk just to get groceries. So as easily as Chris brought herself to the store, she was able to pick up items for her neighbor while there. Identifying those in our sphere of influence who could use a little support is all an act of service needs to be. It just comes more instinctively from those who have grown up in a culture formed around the “we” and not “me.”

Another approach to service can include education. One of the first movements that hit my inbox in March was from a local employer. It was a no cost webinar hosted by AE Works & Citrin Consulting on Resiliency and Safety in the Workplace. One of the featured speakers was fellow Navy veteran, Michael Cherock. Michael, also President of the Board for Veterans Breakfast Club showed his support in this workshop, by attending storytelling with the VBC @ Home programming, and supporting his own team in the workplace.

Note that VBC @ Home is a virtual adaptation of the Veterans Breakfast Club in Pittsburgh aimed to connect our community through storytelling and preserving living history of our local veterans to include who have served since World War II to present day. Hundreds of veterans and community members have participated on this live program over the past few months as a way to connect, encourage, educate, and engage with one another and our community at large. This event has been of service to our community on Monday evenings, Wednesday afternoons, and Thursday mornings.

Contribution through creative approaches is also a way to serve.  James Martin, local U.S. Marine Corps veteran and student at Robert Morris University, has a uniquely tailored and ongoing mission to connect with isolated veterans through video game platforms and live streaming as a way to mitigate the dangerous effects isolation can have in an individual’s life. Before COVID quarantine hit Pittsburgh, plans to bring gaming entertainment and connection to veterans in a live event in April who may not have access to these systems. Of course, quarter two threw plans all our plans for a loop. Resiliency and networking instincts aligned with the values of honor, courage and commitment as James knew connecting to isolated veterans was more important than ever before. Thanks to the support of the Veterans Breakfast Club, word spread regarding this new opportunity to connect and serve our veterans and their wellbeing. James and his wife have also been focused on serving their children as well as a friend whose child needed care while their work was deemed essential.  Providing a place for kids and adults alike to embrace the stay at home recommendations is exactly what direct acts of service means, we watch over one another and give as able.

Speaking of well-being and giving, U.S. Navy veteran Derrick Clark, lost his home and all belongings in a house fire on March 14, 2020. Derrick was raised in a home that emphasized the act of giving, this foundation of service to others was solidified both during his time in the Navy and afterward. His journey and connection with The Mission Continues also fuels his ability to give big – because going home is not an option right now. Despite displacement, co-parenting, and seeking for work during COVID 19, Derrick has been rallying his network and community to meet the needs of those around him. After speaking with Derrick in early May, we identified he’s fed hundreds through on the street walk-up barbeques, senior citizen home food deliveries, and even organized an event for Memorial weekend with thousands of dollars in meat and supplies donated. Day to day service adventures also included randomly administering NARCAN to someone on the street, sharing resources with another woman who’s home had also burnt down, and trips to deliver schoolwork packages to children whose parents are essential workers and unable to get them to school before 3p. Derrick’s commitment to give what he has, his courage to press into crisis and not retreat, and honor to value his relationships over the years has allowed this pandemic and season of personal crisis to be one filled with generosity and not desperation.

Also friend of The Mission Continues, Pittsburgh Food Bank board member, recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work, and new hire with the Veteran Affair’s HUD-VASH program, United States Army Veteran Sean Tyler, has kept himself busy and focused on a routine of wellness, service, and resourcing. Sean explains that service is symbiotic, he enjoys serving and does so as often as possible, but he also learns a lot in the process. The reason Sean stuck out was not because of the more formal roles, but because his posts on social media ooze his encouraging and service minded character. One particular post of humor and encouragement is the share on how he’s modified items in his home to take the place of going to the gym to keep himself goal focused and manage stress. Whether working out, cuddling with his dogs, or time with his girlfriend – it is a push to do the things that keep him well around the obligations of his life.

So with value implementation in full swing, our Pittsburgh veterans are not only contributing to our workforce, they are impacting our communities without anyone telling them to do so. They didn’t ask me to put their names in here, they stood out because of the steps they chose to take.