Veteran's mission continues even after his return from combat
Saturday, April 28, 2012 | 7:22 p.m. CDT
COLUMBIA — James Casey, a U.S. military veteran, had trouble finding an identity in society when he returned home from Iraq.
He needed to find the focus and purpose back home that he had during his three tours of duty in Iraq. The Mission Continues helped provide that purpose.
On Saturday, The Mission Continues — a nonprofit organization that challenges post-9/11 military veterans to be leaders in their communities — teamed up with Fox Sports Midwest as part of the Summer Service Slam to spearhead a refurbishment of Rainbow Softball Center at Cosmopolitan Park.
"Many veterans struggle to find the same purpose at home as they found in the mission, camaraderie and structure of the military. The Mission Continues does not offer charity, rather, it challenges returning service members to utilize their tremendous skills and leadership to continue serving our country at home," the organization's website says.
Saturday was an opportunity for veterans such as Casey to give back to their community with the help from civilian volunteers.
Casey, a program alumnus, was one of the coordinators who made Saturday’s event possible, setting up the logistics and enlisting volunteers.
All of the veteran members of The Mission Continues have to complete a 26-weeks fellowship in which they work for a local nonprofit organization.
Casey, who completed his fellowship at The Mission Continues national office in St. Louis this year, spent much of his time developing the organization's alumni program.
Coming from a military family, Casey moved around a lot as a child, before settling in the St. Louis area for high school, where he attended Fort Zumwalt South High School.
Casey enlisted in the military in 2000 when he was 17. He returned to the U.S. in 2008 after his three tours of duty and took a job in military training.
After suffering a knee injury in 2009, however, Casey was forced to return to St. Louis. It was during this time that he developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was being idle and not doing anything,” Casey said, “I was going through a major loss in my life. I was losing an identification of self because for almost a decade I had identified with being a combat soldier.”
Casey joined The Mission Continues in March 2011 and began his fellowship at the national office. However, a few months into his fellowship, he had to take a break to check into an inpatient post-traumatic stress disorder clinic. He decided to turn things around in his life.
“I really looked hard at my life, and I took the time, and I turned it around,” Casey said. “I came back in January this year and ran with developing our alumni program.”
He credits his wife, whom he calls his “rock,” as well as The Mission Continues as the support system that helped him turn a corner with his PTSD.
“I give credit to my relationship with my wife being probably the one factor that’s kept me alive,” Casey said. “I would say that The Mission Continues pushed me in ways that forced me to seek further treatment for PTSD.”
According to Casey, he is starting to become himself again, and he is able to help out and contribute more as both a husband and a father to his 14-month-old daughter, Lucille.
Having finished his fellowship, Casey remains an avid participant in The Mission Continues. The organization, along with his family, has helped Casey find the purpose and identity that he was lacking when he came back from Iraq.
“I did great things in Iraq, and I did things that helped changed communities,” Casey said. “While the battlefield has changed, and while where I am working has changed, I am still helping create change in a community.”
Casey said that events like Saturday help recruit other veterans that have struggled since returning from war, like himself. He credits Fox Sports Midwest for helping to spread the word of the Summer Service Slams during its broadcasting of the St. Louis Cardinals games.
Al Hrabosky, former Cardinals pitcher and current color analyst for the Cardinal’s broadcasts on Fox Sports Midwest,, was present Saturday to help out and talk to volunteers.
The volunteers were divided into five groups: Team Berkman, Team Wainwright, Team Matheny, Team Molina and Team Freese. Casey, a Cardinals fan, picked the team names himself.
Casey said that he choseTteam Berkman specifically because of his admiration for Berkman’s comeback season last year — something that resonates strongly with Casey.
“He found the drive inside of him to continue going,” Casey said. “And I think that kind of motivation and that kind of drive is what we are all looking for, that even though things may have happened in our lives, we still keep driving one foot in front of the other.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.