(Melissa Steinman with Billy Jack)
[Melissa was recently featured in Florida Tech Today for her work with The Mission Continues, a non-profit organization for transitioning military veterans, which led to a cameo in Star Trek: Into Darkness. Read the full article here.]
By Melissa Steinman, Oceanography ‘05
I graduated from Florida Tech 18 months after returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom. As soon as I returned I knew that I was not the same person. I had anxiety and panic attacks when my alarm would go off, but worked with my teachers to accommodate and finish. From there I moved home to Oregon and completed a Reintegration Program at the VA, which reduced my symptoms and allowed me to finish a Master’s of Arts in Teaching. While there, a friend connected me with The Mission Continues, but having accepted a teaching job in Arizona, I filed the email away in the “maybe someday” file.
The teaching position turned out to be in an area of high gang activity and I found myself feeling like I was in a combat zone, unable to protect my students. To protect my health, I resigned my position, feeling like a failure. I remembered that email and promptly applied for a fellowship.
The Mission Continues challenges post 9/11 veterans to regain their sense of purpose through service in their communities. It was started by Rhodes Scholar and former Navy Seal Eric Greitens, when he returned from Iraq and visited wounded soldiers and U.S. Marines. When he asked them what they wanted to do when they healed, they all said they wanted to return to their units. Then he asked what they would do if they couldn’t return to their unit. They all said that they wanted to serve in their community. From there, Eric and two friends put together their combat pay and disability money to fund The Mission Continues Fellowship program.
This is part of why I was so open to diving into a fellowship. The founder is a veteran, and is willing to put his money where his mouth is.
The beauty of the program is that the veteran selects a location to give their time. The veteran works with the host location to determine their role and goals within the organization. So you end up with veterans doing what they love, at no cost to a community organization (which usually needs people), while strengthening the community. Working in such an environment allowed me to regain my confidence as a teacher and a job teaching for Arizona Game and Fish.
How can you get involved? If you are a military veteran, you are eligible to apply for a fellowship. The fellowship program can be truly magic. If you apply and really take the time to choose a location that you love, you will inevitably perform well. In many cases, you can expand the impact of the organization beyond what the organization had thought of, or could previously afford. At the very least, you will end up with a wonderful letter of recommendation from your host location, and at best, you had a 6-month interview with an organization that may lead to a job. One way or another, both parties know what they are getting into ahead of time and it helps the transition to a peace-time work environment. Of course, if you aren’t a veteran, you can contribute financially and find a Mission Continues Community Service project in your area and give your time.
Today, I have returned to teaching and am in a far more supportive district, still serving low- income kids. I would tell other veterans the same thing I tell my students. Find people who have a similar goal as you and stick with them. Positive social groups can push or pull you past any obstacle. Understand the services available to you, and have the courage to ask for them, and in some cases, the confidence to demand them. All my graduate text books were provided to me in audio format through disability services. In order to receive that benefit, I had to walk through a door marked “disability.” I hated that, but I was the only one of my cohort who did ALL of my reading. Other accommodations are available depending on your own needs. Find a job, hobby or volunteer location that feeds your soul and accept the gratitude of the people you impact.
Melissa Behind the Scenes on the Set of Star Trek: Into Darkness
About my fellowship with the Mission Continues
Check out my work with the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center