Where Are They Now?

Posted March 14, 2014

By Spencer Kympton, President of The Mission Continues

“Where Are They Now?” is a question the media often asks about former celebrities or notable individuals. What typically follows are tales of a childhood actor’s descent into obscurity as an adult, or a one-hit-wonder’s struggle with substance abuse post-success. We watch these shows, and we read these stories in part because they allow us to see something of ourselves in people with whom we previously had little in common.

Hearing the “where are they now” question so frequently, I’ve wondered why we don’t ask it of another group of notables—our military veterans. Their experiences over the last 13 years are unique and foreign to the vast majority of Americans. Understanding what veterans like Connor Mallon did at war, and what they are doing now, gives us all the opportunity to see our own potential in them.

I ran into Connor unexpectedly on a recent trip to Washington, DC. I first spotted him because of his bright blue Mission Continues’ ball cap. Then I noticed his camera, and his focus and intensity as he took pictures of a building on this particular block in Chinatown. To anyone else, he may have been just another aspiring photographer. To me, his efficiency of movement, his posture and his closely cropped haircut were evidence of a deeper story.

I knew what no one else there in Chinatown knew: that Connor had voluntarily served over six years in the United States Army as a combat engineer. That he had deployed twice to Iraq. That his squad had earned a reputation as one of the bravest and most effective combat elements in his battalion. That he had answered his country’s call to serve and had distinguished himself with that service.

I can also answer the question, “What is Connor Doing Now?” Like many new veterans, he is serving again here at home. He and thousands of his peers are serving their communities at mission-driven organizations like The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon, AmeriCorps, and The 6th Branch.

At The Mission Continues, we are empowering veterans who are struggling with the transition to civilian life to find new missions. We engage veterans in two action-orientated service programs. Our Fellowship Program empowers individual veterans to volunteer part-time in their community for six months. Our Service Platoon Program empowers teams of veterans to collectively tackle a tough mission in their community over the course of a year.

As a Mission Continues Fellow, Connor Mallon pursued his passion for photography, serving as the official photographer for the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. When his fellowship ended, he joined his local Mission Continues Service Platoon, where he now acts as the platoon’s communications squad leader. He and his platoon are teaming up to tackle a pressing need in the DC community: malnutrition in DC’s urban center.

Connor is one of more than 900 veterans who have served their community as a Mission Continues Fellow, and he is one of hundreds of other veterans who have joined a Service Platoon.

On first blush, the story of Connor’s transition from the military was ‘successful’: he went back to school to complete a degree, and he secured a full-time job. Yet, something was missing. He did not feel connected. He missed the camaraderie, the esprit-de-corps, and the sense of purpose he had experienced in the military. He found all of them again in serving his community.

Continued service is working for veterans who are seeking these reconnections. Service is working for the former Marine Corps NCO who led hundreds of patrols in Afghanistan, and now leads a squad of veterans in horticulture therapy and sustainable farming outside Seattle. It is working for the former intelligence analyst who struggled to find a purpose after her discharge from the U.S. Army and now teaches pre-K students at her local YMCA in St. Louis. It is working for teams of veterans who are responding to natural disasters in places like Moore, Oklahoma and Boulder, Colorado, and it is working for a team of veterans focused on revitalizing depressed neighborhoods in Baltimore.

Through Got Your 6—and alongside Team Rubicon, The 6th Branch, and the Corporation for Community and National Service—we are bringing the value of continued service to larger numbers of veterans across the country. Together, we have committed to engage veterans in five million hours of volunteer service by December 2014. During these millions of hours, veterans will be helping themselves while they help their neighborhoods, and in the process, they will be forging their legacy—one of service in war followed by service at home.

I am proud of Connor’s service to his country when we needed him most. And, just as importantly, I am proud of Where Connor Is now. He and his generation of veterans are showing us that we all have the potential to leave our own legacy of action and service.

We invite you to get involved with The Mission Continues, and empower veterans to report for duty in their community. Find out how service can work for you.