Getting Veterans the Respect -- and Adventures -- They Deserve
Robbie Hill is a zero BS kind of guy. You know this just by taking a quick scroll down the Facebook Page of his organization, Mission Volant. It’s plastered with images overlaid by text reminiscent of the aspirational posters you see in your local gym, only better and a lot more convincing:
“REMEMBER THAT GUY WHO GAVE UP? NEITHER DOES ANYONE ELSE.”
“STOP DOING SHIT YOU HATE. WHATEVER YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT, DO THAT.”
“THE BRAVE DO NOT LIVE FOREVER, BUT THE CAUTIOUS DO NOT LIVE AT ALL.”
Tucked between these inspirational posters, you catch glimpses of Hill skydiving, running ultra marathons and talking to groups of people about his mission. His head is shaved, he has the legs of a bodybuilder and both of his arms are a canvas for sleeve tattoos – but the first thing you notice is his wide-open smile. It follows him everywhere, keeping up with his jam-packed days and never seeming to tire. It’s one of those smiles that makes you want to talk to him. And when he talks, it’s with that same, no BS tone – so you listen.
“Veterans are sometimes viewed as a wounded animal – like we need to feel sorry for veterans,” Hill says. “There’s a tendency to view us as we’re somehow fucked up.” Hill himself has 10 months left as an active duty MV-22 Osprey Crew Chief in the Marine Corps after close to 11 years of service. “I don’t believe that. I believe veterans are extremely capable, functional, adaptable people who have incredible skillsets.”
Enter Mission Volant, Hill’s brainchild that started when he was on tour in Afghanistan. Making a routine trip to a military hospital, Hill remembers seeing wounded Marines lying in the beds, both desperate in their battles to stay alive and also comforted by the identifying bonds they had with their fellow soldiers. As a helicopter crewman, Hill realized he would likely never have that kind of bond in his military experience. “Aircrew in helicopters don’t get hurt much,” he says flatly. “We either die or don’t get injured at all, is kind of the reality.” Being in that hospital, Hill realized he wasn’t doing what he was made to do. So without hesitation, he decided to change it. He’d start an organization where he and his staff and instructors would have a deep bond with those they worked with, and he would do this by creating something that would give life back into service veterans after their time in the military.
“We don’t view veterans at all as ‘You’re messed up’ – it’s ‘Hey, we understand where you’ve been.’” Hill’s explanations are simple and his words easy to grasp by everyone, and that alone is helping to make a difference in how people respond to veterans. “When you’re in the military, your life goes at 110 MPH, but when you get out, life slows down significantly. So what we want to do is inject an adventurous skill set.”
Mission Volant is finally coming to fruition, about four years after Hill visited that hospital. While Mission Volant waits for their nonprofit status to come through (they anticipate having it by end of 2016), Hill decided to finance all operations by offering services to the public for a price (you can be trained in skydiving and base jumping with them and your fee goes directly into the organization) as well as digging heartily into his own pockets to cover additional costs. He certainly isn’t going to wait around for somebody to give him the stamp of approval when he can be out in the meantime getting the job done some other way.
Hill emphasizes that while he hopes to grow the organization to where they’re servicing at least one veteran for each skill set they offer, it’s less about the number of veterans and more about quality over quantity. “We’re looking for people who have a brick wall in front of them,” he says. “And we help knock that brick wall down. We’re not here for a pity party – we don’t offer a hand-holding service for veterans. We offer a challenging skill set, but you’ve gotta want it first.” While Mission Volant serves all veterans regardless of length of military service, they focus on those who need it the most, and that tends to be veterans with physical limitation injuries, prosthetics and/or documented PTSD. But again, they offer services to everyone – even the general public – for a fee that goes directly into supporting Mission Volant. That’s a win-win.
With 12 different instructors who are all veterans or professionals in their field volunteering their time, the options with Mission Volant range widely. Always wanted to learn climbing and mountaineering skills? Done. What about surfing? Done. There’s also hiking, scuba diving, paddle boarding, skydiving and paragliding. The adventures they’ve chosen are centered on the idea of a sustainable skill set. These are skills the average, everyday American can afford the ability to sustain. “Once you buy the gear and learn how to skydive, it only costs $25 a jump,” Hill explains. “If it’s paragliding, it’s free once you own your own wings.” Mission Volant helps with the equipping and training, and then veterans are able to sustain their new skill on their own.
Photo Credit: @infinityphotorob
With a lot of training partners and an offering of skills that so many civilians are interested in, it’s tough to justify not learning to skydive with Mission Volant. Even after they receive their nonprofit status, keeping capabilities services offered to civilians is still a great way to fund the organization. It’s a new way of approaching costs, and one that will resonate well among younger generations who are driven by a need to be connected with the organizations they support. So the next time you’re in that gym and your motivation wavers, think about Robbie Hill and his words of wisdom:
“ONE DAY YOU WILL WAKE UP AND THERE WON’T BE ANY MORE TIME TO DO THE THINGS YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO. GET BUSY LIVING.”
And then give Mission Volant a call.