- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

When Troy Crawford graduated from high school in Lincoln Park, Mich., he enlisted in the Marine Corps, became a sergeant and served as an infantry team leader.

He served for six years, including one tour in Iraq, before transitioning to civilian life. After a year, however, he missed the camaraderie of the military and decided to re-enlist. When he was told the Marine Corps was not accepting previous service members, he walked across the hall and joined the Army.

Within three months, He was back in Iraq as an infantry team leader. On March 10, 2006, an improvised explosive device exploded 10 feet from him while he was on a routine foot patrol, knocking him unconscious and piercing his body with shrapnel.

After seven days in a coma, he awoke in a German military hospital. He soon was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for further treatment. The blast had blown out both of his eardrums, produced a mild traumatic brain injury and scarred his body. In July 2008, he was medically retired from the Army, having been awarded the Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal, among other honors.

Recognizing that his days of serving in the military were over, Mr. Crawford channeled his commitment to service into community volunteering, including helping with an outdoor education program for sixth-graders. He recently was awarded a Mission Continues fellowship to serve as a full-time volunteer with Team River Runner, a District-based nonprofit that teaches wounded service members and their families how to kayak and provides mental and physical healing along the way.

The Mission Continues awards fellowships to wounded and disabled veterans who seek to continue serving even though they can no longer do so in uniform. Fellows volunteer full time for up to 14 weeks at a charitable organization of their choice while a grant helps defray cost-of-living expenses. The fellowships are intense, short-term experiences in volunteering, and nearly all fellows continue to serve their community after their fellowship.

The Mission Continues was founded two years ago by Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL officer, Rhodes scholar, White House fellow and Purple Heart recipient. Mr. Greitens launched the program using his combat pay from Iraq. Two friends chipped in their Veterans Affairs disability checks to help sustain the organization. Today, the program has gained support from across the country and plans to award 36 major fellowships in 2009.

Beyond the financial boost, the fellows get a strong shot of confidence. D.C.-area native Perry Green, for example, served two tours in Iraq before the military found him unfit for service because of a series of combat-related back injuries. Mr. Green is working with the VA in Augusta, Ga., through a full fellowship from the Mission Continues. He notes, “Veterans need just as much help, if not more, than other members of the community. I believe my taking part helps make the veterans better people and better citizens.”

To expand its impact, the Mission Continues recently rolled out the Warriors in Service program, which supports “wounded warriors” who want to organize and lead service projects with other veterans. In addition, a series of new projects called Veterans Tribute projects will enable citizens to honor soldiers killed in action through service projects tailored to that individual's life and interests. In 2009, the Mission Continues plans to engage more than 5,000 people in projects like these.

With increased activity has come increased visibility, and the Mission Continues faces the challenge of expanding across the country, recruiting qualified veterans and attracting sufficient financial and other support. The program already is established in six major metropolitan areas, but with nearly 34,000 wounded service members from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Mission Continues has a lot of ground to cover.

The Mission Continues has joined with ServiceNation in support of the recent Serve America Act, which will create a Veterans Corps to address the service potential of our veterans. This is a great start, but more can be done. Just as we invest in our armed forces, so, too, must we invest in our veterans, cultivating their desire to serve their communities and scaling those efforts. Our country will only benefit from their continued dedication and service.

Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek are co-authors of “Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives” and founding partners of New Mountain Ventures, an entrepreneurial leadership development company. They can be reached at [email protected] entrepreneurs .com.

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