Community Matters: 
Active Valor & A Life of Purpose

Our Community Matters series is a grassroots approach to supporting those who support the nation—the communities that feed America, build America, and protect America. Our newest story highlight is on Active Valor, a non-profit dedicated to giving combat veterans new purpose by connecting them with children of our nation’s fallen heroes.

War changes things. Perspective, mindset, everything. Naithen Schirmer stepped foot in a gas station for the first time after coming home from Iraq and was blinded by neon signs and garish logos. What used to be an everyday experience was now overwhelming and shocking. Have you ever walked into a casino? says Schirmer. Outside, you don't hear anything and then you walk into the casino and it's jing, jing, jing, jing. That's what it's like coming back to America after a combat zone.

Schirmer was in the army for five years and deployed to Iraq for one year with the United States Army in the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade out of Fort Riley, Kansas. During his time in combat, Schirmer experienced every hardship from serious injuries to losing fellow soldiers and friends to the war. He found himself unprepared for the challenges that came with the harsh transition of adjusting to life after combat. Upon coming home, with missions and assignments now behind him, he focused on searching for a way to heal from the traumas of war and finding new purpose in his life after combat. He tells us, When you're in combat, you feel that you have a purpose for 24 hours a day. I had a mission and then coming back and not having that mission anymore, that really hurt. You don't realize that your adrenaline is flowing 24 hours for a full year because you're in a combat zone. And then when you come back, you don't have that adrenaline. So, you're searching for that rush and purpose.

Schirmer’s search for purpose and camaraderie eventually led him to Active Valor, where he was able to find both. Active Valor is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting combat veterans by connecting them as mentors to the children of our nation’s fallen heroes, referred to as Gold Star Children. The program, started by Navy SEAL Veteran Perry Yee, allows veterans to continue contributing to their community in a profound way by creating a special bond with a child who no longer has access to that mentorship. “The motivation for starting Active Valor came from my personal experience as a veteran,” Yee explains. I struggled with the transition from coming out of the service back into the civilian world.” When Yee finally connected with the veteran community, he realized they shared the same struggles. He and his now wife brainstormed how to repurpose their military skill sets while giving them an outlet to once again feel valued. “We happened to come across the Gold Star community, and we realized connecting veterans with Gold Star children was the perfect pairing.

As someone who was raised without a father, Schirmer feels a special connection to the mission of Active Valor. I know how growing up without a father affected me. So, anything I can do to help a kid that doesn't have a father, I'm there for it. He also feels the program allows him to uphold the obligations he made to his military family in combat after returning home. It’s not just about giving back to the community. It’s about giving back to my brothers and their families. The families of the fallen are huge to me. I lost a couple of guys, so anything that I can do to give back, I’m always ready to jump in and help.

Schirmer’s journey back to civilian life after living in combat for five years started as a hazy transition where he felt unsure of how to manage his need for adrenaline and a mission. Today, he finds his purpose in doing the things that make him feel alive whether that be riding his motorcycle down a winding highway or working as a mentor with Active Valor. Although his time serving the country has ended, he will always have the sense of purpose it gave him and the camaraderie he formed in the war. His purpose now is to live every day in their honor.