This spring, we’re teaming up with the USO to launch Operation Roadtrip. We’ll be sending three veterans and recently transitioning service members on a cross-country road trip to discover all of the opportunities that post-military life has to offer. The team will be interviewing inspiring veterans who have successfully transitioned into fulfilling careers built around the things they love.
Fueled by the USO, Operation Roadtrip is a key part of the USO’s Transition 360 Alliance, an initiative to help U.S. military personnel and their families successfully transition back into civilian life after their service ends. The USO Transition 360 Alliance leverages the organization’s global resources and the programmatic expertise of additional nonprofit organizations to provide a broader range of impactful programs and services to support troops and military families. The USO Transition 360 Alliance partners include RP/6, Hire Heroes USA, Stronger Families, and The Comfort Crew for Military Kids.
The Department of Defense estimates that a total of one million service members will transition out of the military in the next five years. Each transition is unique and the USO Transition 360 Alliance and Roadtrip Nation recognize this and seek to help on a personal level.
Meet the Operation Roadtrip team:
28-year-old Sam Shockley never waffled on what he wanted to do with his life. Drawn from an early age to the military’s philosophy of camaraderie and selfless service, Sam enlisted in the Army as soon as he finished high school and was determined to make his military career stretch over a lifetime. He sailed through the ranks, and eventually found himself a sergeant performing route clearance as a combat engineer.
But the seemingly iron-clad plan he had sketched out for his life came undone in 2013, when, on his third tour in Afghanistan, Sam stepped on an IED, losing both his legs. The trauma sent him spiraling into depression and he spent two years in recovery, mourning the loss of life as he knew it. But hope beckoned in the form of his family, who helped him climb out of the darkness and rediscover his zest for life.
Determined to find new ways to channel his skills, Sam hopes this road trip will open his eyes to new career opportunities and the stories of people who overcame hurdles to become successful in their own way. “I’m still at the beginning, still figuring things out, but I haven’t given up,” he says.
Helen Chandler has always known exactly who she is. Ask her to describe herself and she’ll tell you with unflinching pride: “I’m a soldier, through and through.” Raised in Korea in an Air Force family, Helen never had any doubt that she would follow in her parents’ footsteps and be a service member for life. At 33 years old, she’s served in both the Air Force and the Army, and has loved it all—from posts in the Medical Service Corps to serving as a chemical threat assessment officer in South Korea.
The problem? After dedicating 15 years of her life to service, Helen has been forced to retire early due to an injury that causes complex partial seizures. That driving force of her life—the military identity that has defined her for so long—feels like it’s been snatched away from her.
While she’s struggling to cope with the loss of who she was, she looks forward to who she can become when she applies her skills and experience to new avenues. She hopes this road trip will introduce her to others who have found their purpose in post-military life so she can do the same.
35-year-old Bernard Edwards is a big believer in the power of travel—as a vehicle to not only learn about the world, but to gain a better understanding of oneself. It’s a self-improvement philosophy that’s grown out of his nomadic upbringing.
A self-proclaimed Air Force Brat, Bernard spent his childhood bouncing from country to country as his family was dispatched to different military installations. Each time he crossed a new border, he saw opportunity to stretch his own limits—from sampling new foods to immersing himself in unfamiliar traditions, exposure to new places always challenged him to question his preconceived ideas. His desire to get an education led him to enlist in the Air Force, where he spent 15 years in the Medical Service Corps while simultaneously earning a B.A. and a master’s degree.
Now retired and facing transition, Bernard seeks to keep at his center the one thing that’s always driven him: travel. He’s hatched an idea for a nonprofit aimed at serving transitioning veterans, and hopes to help others thrive in civilian life by encouraging them to retain a sense of adventure in their lives.
You can follow the team’s adventure by checking out #OperationRoadtrip on Instagram and Twitter.