Fifteen Years to Reintegration

Posted February 12, 2016 by Alicia Downs

Throughout the month of February, Got Your 6 will be celebrating veterans to commemorate Black History Month. We will share stories of what led them to serve in the military and how they’re still serving here at home. 

My grandmother has always been a great example of service. She wasn’t a veteran but she had a servant’s heart. Following her example, I began to serve in my community through our local church. As a painfully shy child, I was about eight-years-old when I saw a commercial for the Montgomery GI Bill. It was then I decided to join the military to help pay for college. But I also carried my grandmother’s servant heart and wanted to do something greater with my life. The U.S. Marine Corps offered me that opportunity and a chance to prove that I was stronger than I believed.

Ten years later, as I stood on the yellow footprints of Parris Island, South Carolina I was filled with an unusual sense of calmness. Everything seemed to move in slow motion—even as the recruits scurried haphazardly to collect our bags before the drill instructor counted down from ten to zero. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…”

Soon, I would find comfort in the discipline. I was particularly fond of uniforms, as my pragmatic nature had always found “fashion” to be inefficient. At the end of nearly six years of service, I thought I was prepared for what came next but found myself in the same malaise that plagued me as teen. Only now I had two children, a husband, and my deteriorating health to consider as well.

Unsure of what to do next, I thought back on the commercial I saw years earlier—I enrolled in school. And, after seven years, a cross-country move, and a set of twins, I became the first person in my family to earn a college degree graduating in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. Shortly thereafter I began working on a rather unexpected graduate degree. I would go on to graduate in the Spring of 2012 with a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Southern California School of Social Work.

But it would be almost 10 years after my military separation that I learned about The Mission Continues (TMC), an organization that sought to enlist veterans to serve their communities. It was exactly what I needed—an opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself. Through the sense of purpose and camaraderie, I finally felt like I fit in the world. My servant’s heart was finally at ease. It may have taken 15 years but I’ve successfully reintegrated. And as a staff member of TMC, I now live each day helping veterans find the same satisfaction.

Alicia Marie Downs (nee Tirado) was born in Youngstown, Ohio, the second of three daughters of mixed Puerto Rican, Black, and Native American descent. Moving to Los Angeles in 1986, she attended schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District before earning her high school diploma from Chatsworth High School in 1997. The following September, Alicia stood on the infamous yellow footprints of Parris Island, South Carolina, as she embarked on her journey as a United States Marine. Completing an honorable five years and nine months of active duty service she became a full time mother and student in San Diego, California. After completing her graduate degree in Social Work in 2012, she moved to Washington D.C. where she currently resides with her four daughters, Victoria (17), Heaven (14), Calleigh (7), and Georgia (7). Alicia remains an active volunteer with The Mission Continues where she is currently employed as the National Outreach Manager.