Serve and protect.
Those are values instilled into our nation’s military personnel. They are not values that can simply be turned off when they return home after deployment.
That’s at least partly why an organization called The Mission Continues was founded—to enable post-9/11 veterans to put their skills, and their values, to use.
In a nutshell, The Mission Continues awards community service fellowships, connecting these veterans with a not-for-profit organization that needs assistance. It’s an opportunity to serve in their own community, as well as a way to ease back into civilian life. And, now, Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse is helping fund those fellowships through holiday sales of its "Private Reserve" Red & White Gift Pack.
Spencer Kympton serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the organization. The former Blackhawk helicopter pilot is no stranger to re-acclimating to civilian life.
He says, “That’s what makes what I’m doing today so special, and what The Mission Continues is doing today so special. We recognize that today’s military veteran was of a generation that stood up after the events of 9/11 and said ‘We’re ready to serve our country’.” He adds, “Now we’re ready to serve our country in a new way, here at home, in our communities, and The Mission Continues is helping them with that.”
The organization was founded by Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who was deployed repeatedly, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. When he returned in 2007, Kympton says, “He was visiting men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda hospitals In Washington, DC and what he heard in those conversations with those men and women—time and time again—was that these men and women wanted to return to their unit. They wanted to serve again. And in most cases those men and women were not going to be able to return to their unit because of their injuries. But their desire to serve was no less strong.”
Fellowships allow for a rigorous application process that ensures that the veteran is both goal-oriented and community focused. The not-for-profits they serve include Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Club of America, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Kympton says, “After serving their fellowship, they go on to work at recognizable companies across the country and are proving time and time again that today’s military veterans can transition into positions of civic leadership upon returning home.”
It’s true for him, as well as for others. Kympton says, “When I left the military, almost immediately I felt something was missing. And I went to graduate school, and I looked at other job opportunities but always felt that. At The Mission Continues, once again my passion and my desire to serve has been spoken to. So I can appreciate today’s veterans’ desire to serve a purpose and a cause—a purpose larger than themselves--and that’s why coming to work every day for me is a heck of a lot of fun right now.”
Kympton says that more than 500 fellowships have been awarded to post-9/11 veterans so far, with 100 percent private funding, and more than 350 host organizations.
One of those veterans is Jeffrey Hall. Hall was a corpsman with the U.S. Navy. He originally enlisted for the benefits and security of a job, but says, “What started out as being a job ended up being far more. It became pretty addictive. Every time I deployed I ended up in service projects where we impacted place like Indonesia during the tsunami, the Philippines mud slide—we provided relief there as well. It becomes deeply ingrained in you.”
He heard about The Mission Continues after trying a “regular job” after he left the military. He says, “After I retired from the Navy I went into a corporate sales job for two years. Very rewarding; I learned a lot. But it just didn’t leave time for anything else and it still left a big part of me that was missing—that was the service component.”
Hall participated in a service project at the Lowell V.A. clinic. “That’s where I got the chance to really feel the impact,” he says, adding, “I was blown away by what TMC was doing. I applied immediately for a fellowship.” He is currently working with his local food bank, while attending school to obtain his master’s degree.
In fact, during their six months, veterans are encouraged to think about how to achieve full-time employment, additional education, or a permanent place in a service organization once their fellowship ends.
Natasha Young, a 12-year veteran of the Marine Corps, joined the military when she was still a teenager. She says, “It was a very humbling experience for me. In all my infinite 17-year-old wisdom I thought I knew everything. Turns out I didn’t know much. Boot Camp was a very good experience for me. I served 12 years, I did two tours in Iraq. It was a good fit for me. I was a Marine.”
But, when she returned from her final deployment and ended up with a medical discharge, Young found it was a difficult transition.
Young says, “I had been a Marine for 12 years and it was who I was. It was the very stitching in the fabric of my character. And I loved being a Marine. It was the only thing I knew how to do. So I was 31, I was a single mother, I had to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And it wasn’t easy.”
Her brother recommended she look into The Mission Continues, and she was accepted as a Fellow. “I was a little apprehensive at first,” she says. “I had researched the organization online. At that point I thought, ‘what did I have to lose?’ I mean, it had to be better than sitting on my couch and feeling sorry for myself. “
She served her fellowship at the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in her own community in Massachusetts, helping to outreach services to homeless veterans. She adds, “What really stood out about The Mission Continues was their tag line. It says, ‘It’s not a charity, it’s a challenge.’ What I needed was to have someone tell me I was needed. That I’m a tangible asset to my community and to push me to stop feeling sorry for myself and push me to engage in my community.”
The Mission Continues is the recipient of proceeds of the holiday sales of the new "Private Reserve" Wine twin pack offered by Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse. Kympton says, “We’re fortunate to have great corporate sponsorships like Smith & Wollensky. They are helping us reach our goals nationwide.”
Hall sums it up, saying, “I wouldn’t be here without the help of many other people. I wouldn’t have successfully completed my career without the efforts and input and mentoring of many other silent heroes behind the scenes that have helped me get to where I am right now. So why wouldn’t I pay that forward? Why wouldn’t I give that back?”
Until the end of 2012, Smith & Wollensky is making its signature wine gift pack available at a special price on their website, with proceeds going to The Mission Continues. The "Private Reserve" Red & White Gift Pack includes handcrafted wines from Vintage Wines. The Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Kunde Family Estate in the Sonoma Valley; the Private Reserve Meritage is from Girard in Napa Valley.
For more information about the wine purchase, go to SmithandWollensky.com.
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The Food Channel’s participation in event coverage was sponsored by Smith & Wollensky.