Students in doctoral programs follow different paths. Not all have the resources to go straight through college academically. Not all realize until later they want to pursue this higher degree. Despite having a great love of the National Parks and other green spaces from early on, David Rivera wasn’t thinking about them when he joined the United States Marine Corps in 1999 right out of high school. During his eight years of service, he deployed to Iraq as part of his Marine Expeditionary Unit and then on into Afghanistan. The strength of the bond between unit members, the importance of mentorship, and the medals he was awarded didn’t preclude the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which he found ways to cope with.
Rather than enrolling in college immediately after, however, he worked multiple jobs. Still deeply committed to nature and concern for the environment and especially agriculture, he decided to enter Miami-Dade College where he completed certificates in fields like Biotechnology. He then achieved his degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Agricultural Ecology. Always with an eye toward field and laboratory work, his next step
was Marine Biology in Wetlands Science and Coastal Policy and Plant Biotech. Florida International University’s doctoral program of Student Curriculum and Learning with a specialty in Agriculture and Environmental fit him in a way he hadn’t
previously considered. Gaining academic
knowledge as well as becoming comfortable in declaring advocacy and working with middle and high school students was where he knew he wanted to be. Although he’d joined Student Veterans of America it was 2016 when he discovered “The Mission Continues”.
Matt Tanner, who is the City Impact Manager for Miami explains, “The Mission Continues is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 2007 to provide
opportunities for post-9/11 veterans to find
purpose at home through community impact.
participated in our programs in our first year. More than 10 years later, thousands of veterans of all generations have joined with us to serve in their communities as part of a successful transition home. Today, with
operations in cities across the country, The Mission Continues’ veteran
volunteers work alongside non-profit partners and community leaders, to achieve critical
objectives such as improving community education resources, eliminating food deserts, mentoring at-risk youth and more.
The Miami Service Platoon was launched in 2014, as one of 5 pilot platoons across the
country. Today, we have over 70 platoons around the country, including Puerto Rico. The
operational focus of the Miami Service Platoon is environmental stewardship, and our project work over the years has included partnerships with National Parks Service, National Parks Conservation Association, Miami Dade Parks, University of Miami's Rescue a Reef, United Way, Miami Dolphins, TREEmendous Miami, amongst other local nonprofits and fellow veteran organizations. Over the past two years, the Miami Platoon has organized and executed 80+ high impact service events across South Florida, including a coordinated veteran response to Hurricane Irma.”
For Rivera, the focus of Environmental Stewardship with fellow and sister veterans was a perfect match. The
billion-dollar plus in deferred maintenance for the National Parks Service means they can always use willing hands to do work in Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. At the community level, Rivera and others pitch in with a variety of service projects such as when a team collaborated with Miami Bridge to beautify the Homestead
emergency shelter for children in need. “Coral restoration and work on the Underwater Trail in Biscayne Park are other projects we do,” Rivera said.
For Rivera, being part of organization is about more than service to the communities. “Mission Continues helps veterans who already know what sacrifice and commitment are to transition that into civic life.” He understands too well PTSD is the “silent killer” that leads to a high suicide rate among veterans and he urges them to get outside, to immerse themselves in nature, to become involved.
“A day in nature is better therapy for me than any drug the pharmaceutical companies can come up with.” He also encourages other veterans to go back to school and/or pursue apprenticeships.
“We’re not just for
veterans though,” he said, “and our projects are family friendly. We bring people together and often have potluck or some kind of group activity at the end of a project.”
Tanner echoed that. “While we are veteran led, The Mission Continues is open to everyone. Our projects include veterans, active duty members, military and veteran families, civilians, youth and community partners.”
Rivera, who is currently on an internship in the Everglades, relocated to Homestead to be “on the ground” so to speak as he becomes even more involved in education efforts and advocacy for agricultural and
environmental matters. His work with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Scientists (MANRRS) and the South Florida Beekeeping Association (SFBA) are among his efforts.
For general information about The Mission Continues, go to https://missioncontinues.org or find them on Facebook. For the Miami Platoon, go to https://www.mission continues.org/service-platoon/Miami-1st-platoon