Veterans Leading Revitalization of Baltimore Neighborhood

Operation Oliver is a project of the 6th Branch, a Veteran-led nonprofit that is taking an entirely new approach to Veteran employment in Oliver,  a notoriously blighted section of Baltimore City.  With Operation Oliver, the 6th Branch has created a new phenomenon in urban renewal – the Veteran Sponsored Community (VSC). In a VSC, military Veterans apply their leadership training and resourcefulness to aggressively tackle persistent problems that have crippled neighborhoods around the U.S. for decades.

Thus far, Operation Oliver has been a resounding success, albeit with some bumps in the road along the way. Residents, long-accustomed to empty promises from civic leaders and community organizations, were taken aback by the immediacy and the forcefulness with which the 6th Branch Vets got to work. In the first months after the project officially launched in July 2011, some citizens were concerned that the proper channels and procedures were not being followed. Many of those concerns have been put to rest, however, and the 6th Branch, local civic and religious leaders – and the citizens themselves – have banded together to resurrect a once-proud Baltimore neighborhood.

Of all the stories I’ve come across about the employment difficulties faced by Veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan – and these are very real challenges that must continue to be addressed – this story is probably the most optimistic in that it connects very obvious dots that hadn’t occurred to me previously. Anyone who is familiar with the blighted areas of Baltimore – or any American city for that matter – knows that there are very real and visible needs that are not being met. Veterans bring a level of courage and resourcefulness to these areas that most civilians simply do not have. After serving in an active combat zone in the War on Terror, these Veterans are not afraid of drug dealers, street crime and abandoned buildings.

In fact, the Veterans of the 6th Branch saw those things in Oliver as obvious problems that should be solved immediately. And instead of studying the various perspectives involved, creating committees and holding meetings, the Vets simply got to work solving problems. The result of their efforts and their resolve is a community reborn – and legitimate hope that perhaps this model can be duplicated to the benefit of all Americans, both Veterans and civilians.

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