For Veterans, Their Mission Continues in National Parks
With a September’s breeze on this late summer night, we will soon be reminded of sacrifice and service. It is in this honor and service that we will be at Fort Battery Ricketts — mile marker zero of the Hiker Biker Trail — all hands on deck, doing what we do best. Having worked along the trail throughout Southeast D.C., we are going to hold our biggest project yet on 9/11 at its trailhead. Who are we? We are volunteers from The Mission Continues, veterans who are stepping up to serve our communities.
Since its inception, The Mission Continues’ 4th Platoon in D.C., funded by Boeing and partnered with the National Park Service, has been caring for and connecting its veterans, members, and communities to the culturally rich parks in the Northeast and Southeastern quadrants of the city. Working the land in these parks has allowed veterans to connect to our military heritage, reminding us of the salt and grit from which we were forged.
Historically, there has been a divide — a divide between veterans and civilians. In the military, our bonds grew through blood and sweat, earning our place among our brothers and sisters, trusting those to our right and left to hold the line. We continue to show up to The Mission Continues projects because we want to see and support each other; we like the reminder that our country still needs us; we are fulfilled knowing we are still working toward the greater good.
It is absolutely refreshing to attend an event and know that we can be ourselves in all of our flaws and patriotism. Yet, something else is happening too. We are finding ourselves again, but this time we have our community members getting down and dirty with us, reinforcing our lines.
While digging holes, we start chatting and the conversations move casually from light-hearted to stories of casualties from the broken hearted, as pain and tragedy knows no civilian-veteran divide. Building tables and garden beds seems mundane, yet we all eventually pour out our own history over the course of the day, recognizing that all of our blood is red, white, and blue.
At the end of the project, our new friends offer to shake our hands, saying thanks for our service; we decline the handshake and pull them in for a hug, saying “Thank you for your service today,” and imploring them to come to the next event. Guess what? They always do, eager to get down and dirty, eager to show their own grit and salt.
In our first year, D.C. 4th platoon has served with new and faithful partners on various projects:
- For Earth Day, we laid siege to Fort DuPont’s Community Gardens under torrential rains with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Student Veterans of America, and the bravest community gardeners, our favorite Rangers kicked us off; we created and maintained garden plots, installed pallet compost bins, and restored a bee farm.
- On National Trails Day, we cared for those spawning and spanning Fort DuPont with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Student Conservation Association.
- We joined So What Else? collecting heaps of garbage from Anacostia Park and river.
- We installed fitness equipment along Fort Mahan, making eager friends in the community throughout the day.
For Memorial Day this year, we also held an event at the Battleground National Cemetery where we tended the hallowed grounds, gathering at the end to remember their honor and sacrifice. We closed out the event with Taps — crooning from the rostrum, our lone bugler brought a patriotic mist to every eye.
It was here, with perfectly placed placards of words not to be forgotten, with our Park Rangers imparting the past upon us, that my children started to learn and appreciate the history that created the city they call home.
It was here, with the bowed heads of veterans and their families, with flowers and wreaths being laid upon headstones, that my innocent daughters started to understand why their mom chose to become a United States Marine. These national cemeteries and memorials, though part of a landscape collectively, are individual beacons of perseverance, prompting us to share their history and importance to the curious young minds inquiring.
On the Fourth of July, we returned to Fort DuPont to celebrate our independence and enjoying the fruits of our labor with a banging BBQ. Each time we go back, we smile at our contributions, rewarded when we see people walking the trails we cleared and created, or bringing vegetables to the BBQ from the community gardens we personally nourished.
My children and I love going back, whether on a drive to Fort DuPont’s skating rink or to roam the very trails we’ve tended. They point out “Mommy! That’s where the snake pooped on me!” or “Hey! That’s where we went mountain biking and I finally made it up the hill without stopping!” The adventure and pride in their eyes reassures me that being part of the national parks along with our community service is giving them something that only nature and the parks can provide.
As encouraged, platoon members frequently attend every event offered by The Mission Continues, creating a reliable, well-oiled machine. And we have logged enough hours digging holes to have nearly exterminated the width and breadth of hole-jokes, however we persevered and have yet to run out. We are all about #ReportingForDuty!
We epitomize honor when we serve the very roots our country sprang from, doing as the founding fathers and mothers intended – connecting communities with the playful environments that surround them.
We’re honored to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service with the communities that surround these incredible places. If we do it right, we have the opportunity to turn strangers into friends, and to inspire the next generation to keep our national parks alive while continuing the bonds we have forged with the community — our community.
Rose is a post-9/11 Marine Corps veteran, and a leader in The Mission Continues’ Washington, DC 4th Platoon. She is an entrepreneur and a small business owner, as well as the mother beautiful twin girls.