By Kourtney Moody
Charlie Bailey’s military career followed an uncommon path.
On May 13, 2000, Bailey, a recent graduate of Keene State College in New Hampshire was listening to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., deliver a commencement speech when his life changed forever.
“I discovered that nothing is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself; something that encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone,” McCain said.
“But that doesn’t mean you have to go out and enlist.”
But that’s exactly what Bailey did. Two months later, he enlisted in the Army and five years later, in 2005, he headed on his first deployment to Mosul, Iraq.
One month before completing his tour, Bailey was on top of an armored vehicle when a suicide bomber detonated in its path. Bailey was immediately medevaced to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and woke up with his wife standing next to his bed.
Although he lost an eye and suffered a traumatic brain injury in the explosion, Bailey was determined not to let his injuries stop him from protecting the country he loves.
“I still had that calling,” Bailey said. “I realized that I wasn’t done and I wasn’t going to allow my injury to define me going forward.”
Seven months after arriving at Walter Reed, Bailey was reassigned from infantry to military intelligence, where he would serve a second deployment to the Middle East.
Ten years after the explosion in Iraq, Bailey suffered a grand mal seizure in front of his wife and five children while stationed in Hawaii. He decided it was time to medically retire.
With his military career officially over, he was unsure where to go next.
Even with extensive experience in the military and two master’s degrees, Bailey’s transition to civilian life was not easy. He sought a job in the veteran-service space and spent much of his time researching, utilizing LinkedIn and networking with people he met during his military career,
That’s when he found RP/6.
A nonprofit founded by two veterans in 2013, RP/6’s mission was to connect veterans or family members with community service providers that assisted them on their path forward. After a long process, RP/6 hired Bailey.
The USO partnered with RP/6 in 2015 - shortly after Bailey started his new job - to expand its transition programming. In January of 2017, RP/6 officially evolved into USO PathfinderSM. The USO Pathfinder program represents a union of the best-in-class business model developed by RP/6 and the global reach and scale of the USO. USO Pathfinder will define a network of transition services and partners to help service members navigate, understand and engage with a growing network of resources and programs available to support them as they reintegrate into their communities.
In Bailey’s role as senior director of site development and operations with the USO, he oversees support, oversight and governance to make sure the USO Pathfinder program is successful and offers best-in-class service.
Bailey has some advice for service members transitioning out of the military: reflect and think about what you are passionate about. What drives you? What motivates you? Then, after learning more about yourself, figure out where you want to pursue that passion.
“The vast majority of the people that transition off any installation are not landing outside of the gates of that installation. They are landing somewhere else in the country,” he said.
Bailey acknowledges that USO Pathfinder would have helped in his transition from soldier to civilian. He said the program would have given him peace of mind and an opportunity to create an Action Plan. USO Pathfinder would have provided him with someone to rely on and would have helped him narrow his focus so he could build a realistic plan for his future.
Now that’s what he’s trying to do for service members and military spouses who are starting down the same path Bailey has already traveled.
Throughout 2017, a rapid expansion of USO Pathfinder services will continue to unfold, with the opening of new centers, the expansion of partners, and the continued development of their technology platform that connects service members to proven best-in-class online resources.
Visit USO.org/pathfinder to learn more information about the USO’s transition programs and services.
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.