When Derek Auguste left the Army after 15 years of service, he had a hard time adjusting back to civilian life. He lost half of his income, was experiencing PTSD and had to learn how to reintegrate into a family that had grown used to operating without him. Thankfully, a chance email led him to The Mission Continues, an organization that empowers veterans to regain a sense of purpose through service. He rose through the ranks, going from volunteer to member, and eventually became a platoon leader in his community.
Auguste talks about how The Mission Continues helped him rebuild his relationship with his wife and children, the challenges of transitioning to civilian life and how selfless service can help communities come together.
What were some of the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life?
One of the first challenges that I encountered was this loss of identity. I’m no longer this noncommissioned officer, leader of soldiers, hard charger and all that stuff that goes along with it. It was realizing that I’m not as important as I thought I was. And then it becomes the reality of losing over 50 percent of my household income overnight, and not really having a strong plan to deal with that. Then it becomes the emotional aspect of reintegrating with a family unit that has learned to live and operate without you and is functioning very well without you. How do you fit into that? Do you disrupt that? And if so, then what purpose do you have being part of the family and what purpose do you have if your kids turn to mom for everything? Because that’s what they’re used to. If your wife does things without including you, she’s had to make decisions without you [because] you weren’t always around, and now you’re dropped in the middle of…their lives without any clear role to play…
How did you go from being lost to rebuilding your identity and your relationship with your family?
For a few months after I left the military, I was really lost and I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going. Every day was a struggle. Fortunately, I found The Mission Continues, a program that allowed me to regain a sense of purpose. Not only did I find The Mission Continues in such a way that I’d be able to give back and do service projects, what I found was my unit. I found men and women who supported me, who encouraged me.
It was through this network of veterans and civilians and allies that I was able to start seeing myself as the leader that I was in the military. I was able to be put in charge of an aspect of a service project. I finally had accountability to something greater than myself.
What ended up happening was my family started seeing me energized and energetic and looking forward to Saturdays to do service projects [with me]. I would tell them, ‘Come on, come with me.’ My family is so supportive, they would be like, ‘Sure, let’s go.’ My teenage kids would be moping and stuff like that, but they would go, and at the end of the project, we’d go have lunch together, and we’d talk about the project and the people we met and the community that we helped and what that meant to us.
What impact has The Mission Continues had on your family?
It’s given them so much encouragement and confidence to pursue what they’re passionate about. My daughter didn’t have a relationship with her dad, but it wasn’t until we were down in the trenches clearing nature trails that we had something to talk about, something in common that we could talk about. And then that gave her the confidence to find communities to advocate for.
She became the vice president of the Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school. She’s now a diversity peer at her college. These are things that she’s really impassioned by. She realized that her voice matters and if she’s passionate and advocates, then things can change. And they’re not going to change until someone raises their hand and says, ‘I’m here to make an impact.’ I can’t help but suspect that [her] motivation and courage and confidence stemmed from her experience being in The Mission Continues.
What role do you think adopting the value of selfless service will have in the healing required for our communities to come together?
Adopting the value of selfless service is going to help our community heal because something happens when you take yourself out of the equation. Something happens when you do something for someone else just because it’s the right thing to do, without any guarantee of reimbursement or any type of reciprocity, just the act of doing something for someone else, you get so much because you get to add that to your story. You get to see a life altered. You get to see a life dramatically changed.
Someone took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity to serve. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if that simple, selfless act of inviting me and encouraging me to [attend] an event, a service project—that changed my life forever and it changed my family’s life forever.
To learn more about how to get involved in your community, visit The Mission Continues.