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‘You’re a part of the community’: Mission43 assists 9/11-era military members and their families

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 6, 2019

Mission43 is rooted in Idaho, yet the initiative will stretch across state borders to help post 9/11-era veterans and their families.

The name nods to Idaho, the 43rd state, as a Boise-based initiative of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. Its structure differs from other veteran organizations and often reaches beyond geographical limits, said Stephen Tamm, North Idaho regional coordinator.

Now working in Moscow, Tamm plans to move to the Coeur d’Alene area next year to coincide with the initiative’s growing presence in North Idaho and Eastern Washington.

“The foundation took a look at the transitioning veteran population and asked who really could use the most support,” Tamm said. “That turns out to be the post 9/11-era veteran population.”

Starting in 2016, foundation leaders believed that the group needed more resources because of many changes in the past 20 years in the military and for options when leaving service. That included a restructured GI Bill for educational benefits and overhauls throughout Veterans Affairs.

Mission43 has four focuses: education, employment, purpose and connection. The aim is to help military members and families transition into a “good-quality civilian life,” he said. “We’re also challenging veterans transitioning into civilian life to be leaders in their communities and really apply themselves.”

In Post Falls during April, about 17 people attended a Mission43 entrepreneur event, he said. They included many active-duty members from Fairchild Air Force Base preparing to retire from service.

The initiative also hosts networking events, including one recently in Coeur d’Alene, to encourage camaraderie often experienced while in service, Tamm said. Support isn’t just for people in Idaho. “The Albertson Family Foundation is dedicated to philanthropy focused on Idaho,” he said.

“But in a general sense, as programming has expanded across the state to include Lewiston, Moscow, Coeur d’Alene and the northern Idaho regions, there’s the recognition that a kind of transparent, gray boundary exists between Idaho and Washington.”

“It also includes places like in Lewiston-Clarkston. They share a chamber of commerce. It really is one community. We’re not going to draw a black-and-white state line and say if you live on the wrong side of the river, we’re not going to help you out.”

Mission43 partners with three national services with veteran expertise: Hire Heroes USA for career counseling, Guild Education for education advisers and Team Rubicon that offers experiences for ex-military to do disaster relief work.

Although there isn’t a membership charge, people who join Mission43 are considered members, Tamm said. Mission43 has more than 4,000 members, a majority in Idaho, but also in Eastern Washington and elsewhere in the Northwest. Others are worldwide because they have a Idaho connection.

Education and employment

Before 2009, the Montgomery GI Bill was the primary educational benefit, Tamm said. “It was an antiquated form of paying for an education.” Tamm said the Post 9/11 GI Bill has benefits for tuition paid upfront with other expenses covered and, in some cases, transferability of benefits to a dependent.

To help veterans explore options, the initiative brought a Guild Education team to Idaho to offer free counseling. Education specialists answer questions from what’s required for a higher education program to how benefits work.

Mission43 recognized in 2017 that many people leaving the military want to start companies, Tamm said. The initiative partnered with the Venture College Incubator at Boise State University to host a Mission43 entrepreneur course. It’s had seven courses with as many as 20 members in each session. The five-week class has a start-to-finish design from business concept to implementation.

One member, Trill Paullin, is a molecular biologist and in the Idaho Army National Guard. She went through the entrepreneur course and founded Free to Feed LLC, a company that creates science-based content for allergen-free breastfeeding and is developing products.

A Coeur d’Alene-area entrepreneur course is planned soon, most likely through North Idaho College. “We are currently working on logistics for a full-time, recurring entrepreneur course that we’d like to host in the Coeur d’Alene area,” Tamm said. “It’s hopeful for 2020 as a free resource for members of Mission43.”

Veterans must decide if they can use military skills in a civilian job or take a different path. That decision can be daunting if the individual wants to return to their hometown or learn to fit into a workforce structured differently than a military organization, Tamm said.

“On top of that, employment for military spouses is a huge challenge, especially for spouses who are part of a military family retiring after 20 years of service,” he said.

Mission43 brought in a Hire Heroes USA team for helping members and dependents find career paths. That’s grown to include a career transition specialist in Lewiston who is dedicated to this region.

“He’s dedicated to the northern region, northern Idaho and Eastern Washington,” Tamm said. “If somebody from Spokane reached out and came to a Mission43 event to work with him, those services are definitely available.”

Purpose and connection

To help Mission43 members find meaningful experiences, the initiative partners with Team Rubicon. Veterans can use many of the skills they learned in the military toward disaster relief work, he said.

“With the transitioning military population, and for anybody that’s done anything meaningful for an entire career, if they have to walk away and transition, the loss of purpose that’s associated with that can be debilitating,” Tamm said.

So far, Mission43 members have supported regional disaster relief work for floods or wildland fires, but options include missions to the Gulf Coast for hurricane relief.

For its connection focus, the initiative also runs what it calls Mission43 INC, which stands for innovate, network and connect. Events include coffee hours, networking happy hours and motivational speakers.

“In the military, you inevitably have really strong connections with the people you served with and with the families that are all on the same base or region,” Tamm said.

“We looked at that and said how do we replicate that? When service members and families leave the military and go back to a civilian community, how do they re-establish that connection? It’s such an important thing to have that network and community.”

Tamm said more networking and family outings will be scheduled in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint.

“I really encourage people just to join us. There are no strings attached, no costs, and being a fully funded organization, we’re a resource provided by the Albertson Family Foundation. When you join Mission43, you’re just a part of the community.”

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