Veterans Day 2019: A Reflection on Purpose


November 8, 2019


On Veterans Day 2019, I’d like to share how Project Recover impacts veterans and military families. When a missing service member is located or returned home, families heal long-held wounds. They experience closure when their questions about their missing loved ones are finally answered. What is even more miraculous is the rippling impact this has on the surrounding community.

The Impact MIAs Have on Veterans

Many people are impacted when a servicemember is missing in action. A missing individual has made the greatest and most often the ultimate sacrifice. Their family’s grieving process is interrupted when that person remains missing, in turn exacerbating their trauma. On the collective level, our nation is not able to completely recover from a conflict when these servicemembers remain missing.

Our country makes a promise to those that bear our nation’s cloth; if you fall in battle, you will not be left behind. Our military men and women act as the keeper of that promise when they serve. When they deploy into harm’s way, they commit to each other. They take responsibility for those to their left and right. When someone is MIA, that commitment was not able to be maintained. This impacts not only the members of the unit but all those that serve and have served.

If you have had the opportunity to attend a military event, you have likely witnessed a POW/MIA table. This table pays homage to those who are prisoners of war and still missing. When I was younger, I knew this moment was very solemn but felt powerless to do anything about it. When I see a POW/MIA table today, I talk to the missing service members in my head. “We are searching for you, and we will not stop. We will keep our promise.”

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Veterans Day 2019: Purpose More than a Paycheck

A common theme shared when discussing transition out of the military is a perceived loss of purpose. When you serve in the military, you have a built-in purpose. Your work has an impact on the world and creates a legacy. No matter your role, you have a sense of responsibility for equipment and a growing number of men and women. Your mission is almost tangible. You know what it is and so does everyone around you. Your purpose is provided for you. When you leave the military, you have to rediscover your purpose. Too often people mistake purpose with finding the highest paying job possible. Purpose is not a paycheck. I talk routinely to very accomplished veterans who are miserable because they do not know their new purpose is yet.

My Purpose Bucket Is Overflowing

I distinctly remember conducting combat operations as a Marine. At that time, I thought my impact on the world would never be greater than it was at that moment. I truly feel blessed to have had those opportunities, but I was incorrect in that assumption. Still an active duty Marine, I took leave between deployments to participate in my first missions. I remember the first time I was part of a team that located an MIA. It was then I committed to doing this work for the rest of my life. I didn’t imagine that feeling could be dwarfed, but it was. Later, when I saw the impact the return of a missing service member had on his family and community, I understood the true scope of our work. This work helps bring closure for military families and has a healing impact on the greater community and our nation.

When I retired from the Marine Corps and assumed the title of veteran, I never felt like I lost purpose. The biggest reason for this is my work with Project Recover. My purpose bucket is constantly overflowing. More than half of our members are military and first responders. I believe if you asked any of them about their purpose bucket, their answer would be the same. All of our members are having a tangible impact in keeping our nation’s solemn promise of bringing everyone home.

On Veterans Day 2019, we at Project Recover are thankful to provide for our veterans in multiple capacities. Those who actively participate in our mission find a purpose that matches the fulfillment they attained while in the military. Additionally, we are committed to the same promise they all assumed responsibility for as servicemembers to leave no one behind.

Derek Abbey, Ph.D., Project Recover President & CEO

Derek Abbey, Ph.D.
Project Recover President

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  1. Time is Running out - Donate Today
  2. We are reflecting on last year and our celebration of Uncle Bert’s homecoming. It was one of the highlights of our lives. We will ever be grateful for all of you. You will always hold a special place in our hearts.
    We look forward to seeing you again and supporting your on-going efforts.
    Kathy Coder and the Mintus-Kozak family

  3. Can we get a picture to you that shows a proper VA-36 painted jet for your Kuwait Harbor story? I was the commanding officer

  4. Probably the most cogent and inspiring explanation I’ve ever heard of the obligation service members feel and the motivation behind Project Recover. Well said, Derek Abbey!

  5. Thank you, Derek. Your thoughts strike a familiar cord with our family. Ten years now since Jimmie came home to rest. The Doyle’s honor each and every veteran who serves and defends our nation and the dedicated men and women of Project Recover (formerly Bent Prop) who continue to search tirelessly for those who didn’t make it home.

  6. Article is on target Derek and sums up my experience in the service perfectly. Thank you for writing it. Wishing you a wonderful Veterans Day – thank you for being there for our country then and now – both with a purpose. ~ Semper Fi

  7. Hello Derek,
    Could you look into recovery of the EC121 that was shoot down by North Koreans in April 1969? They were shoot down by a North Korean MiG-17 aircraft over the Sea of Japan. The plane crashed 90 nautical miles (167 km) off the North Korean coast and all 31 Americans on board were killed. My father Stephen C Chartier was on that plane and his remains were never recovered.
    Thank you for all you and your team does on these recovery missions.

    1. Kimberly,
      Thank you for reaching out. We are incredibly grateful for your father, Stephen Chartier’s sacrifice and that of you and your family since his loss. Someone from our staff will be reaching out soon about your father’s case. Sincerely, Derek