Operation Oliver: Vets Continue Service at Home

David Landymore ’13, geography and environmental systems, is executive director of The 6th Branch.

Dave Landymore 2The 6th Branch is a veteran-led nonprofit community service organization established in 2010 by veterans recently separated from the U.S. military. The founders of the organization felt that although they had hung up their uniforms for the last time, they were not finished serving their country and had much more to offer. They realized together that they had come away from the military with a particular skill set that they could utilize to help move their country and communities forward. We refer to these nominally as “leadership and organizational skills,” but there is much more to it than that. We believe that our many years of uniformed service have left us exceptionally prepared to address issues here at home.

For The 6th Branch, this urge to continue our service is manifested through Operation Oliver, our commitment to serving and empowering Oliver, a blighted East Baltimore community formerly characterized by abandonment and neglect, fueled by poverty and the drug trade. We have found many parallels between our experiences in the service and our community building effort in Oliver, and feel that as military veterans we are absolutely the right people for this very important job.

For me, finding The 6th Branch and working within Operation Oliver has been a life-changing experience, and one for which I have a UMBC staff member to thank. In the fall semester of 2011 I was a service-learning intern with the Shriver Center’s Choice Program when, knowing that I was a military veteran, Clare Greene suggested that I look up a local veterans organization called The 6th Branch. After perusing the website and learning what they were all about, I quickly got in touch with the Executive Director (now Board Chairman) Rich Blake, and we met in person a few days later. Operation Oliver was only in the idea stage at that point, and officially kicked off shortly thereafter. I’m certain that I would have found The 6th Branch eventually, but as it happens, I owe it all to Clare for directing me to the organization sooner rather than later.

As a geography major with a particular interest in urban geography and sustainability, it has been extremely interesting to work in the very same arena that I am learning about in school. I’m often positively reinforced by things I learn in the classroom manifesting themselves in real time in our work in Oliver. I have benefited in particular from Rob Neff’s Urban Geography and Urban Sustainability classes, Sari Bennet’s Metropolitan Baltimore, and Dawn Biehler’s Environmental Justice class (in which I’m currently enrolled).

I still have about two full semesters’ worth of courses to complete before I graduate, which I am slowly chipping away at two classes at a time, so that I have enough time and energy to commit to The 6th Branch and Operation Oliver. Considering my major, I hope to be able to find a career that allows me to work in under-served communities in Baltimore in the same way that I am fortunate enough to work with T6B and the Operation Oliver initiative. As far as The 6th Branch is concerned, we still have a tremendous amount of work to do in the Oliver community, and don’t have plans to commit ourselves elsewhere anytime soon. We will continue to create opportunity and bring positivity to Oliver until we have successfully put ourselves out of business, and can leave behind a fully sustainable neighborhood that hosts a thriving community, at which point we will find ourselves another mission.

Contact the author, David Landymore, at DaveLandymore@the6thbranch.org.

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