Few things are more fun to me than going on a hunting trip. The only thing that makes it better; being surrounded by some of the best individuals this country has produced; United States Marine Corps Infantrymen – current and former.
I sat down with Gabe Castleberry, our Executive Director, over a camp fire after a long, freezing cold day of hunting. He reminded me why the 03XX Foundation has such a strong grassroots following. Here is, in his words, the reason we exist and why our mission is critical for our community.
In your words, who are we and how are we different than any other veteran’s nonprofit group?
– That’s a great question, the 03XX Foundation is different than other veteran’s non-profit groups. The difference lies not in service provision, but in the demographic we serve. The 03XX Foundation is the only national organization to date (that we’re aware of) who services and specializes in infantry Marines and Corpsmen who served as FMF Docs. Furthermore, we don’t limit ourselves to the post 9/11 “combat” certified Marines. When we began, we had very deep conversations about the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When and Why). Given the narrow focus of our audience we didn’t think it wise to require a specific era of service. If a Korean War veteran comes to us for help and he was an 0300, he gets the best care we’re able to provide. Period.
How did the idea for the Foundation start?
– We started the 03XX Foundation in response to the overwhelming number of Marines (mostly Infantry MOS’s) who are homeless and worse, committing suicide as a result of insufficient care or circumstances beyond their means. Quickly realizing the enormity of the problem, we decided to tackle these problems one case at a time. We have a network of resources that we’re able to leverage in order to combat suicide, homelessness, mental health, and career transition needs within our community. There was a need to tackle these critical issues within our community where we could. Our volunteer team is critical to this process.
Why did you decide to get involved in the beginning?
– Although I’ve served in every capacity within the organization (Case Manager, Marketing, Events, Merchandising to name a few), I wasn’t the Executive Director initially. But I have been here since the beginning. I filed the initial Articles of Incorporation. To me, each case is equally important because they remind me of a younger self, but with less experience and resources. I’m just trying to continue the mission of honoring our brotherhood by paying it forward.
Are there any cases that stick out to you?
– There are three cases that I worked where children under the age of 5 were involved. As a father myself, these cases were important to me because we were able to significantly impact young lives for the better. All three of the cases were pretty gnarly given the circumstances; the fathers were facing financial issues and through our generous donors and expert volunteers, we helped them get back on their feet. This meant the world to me.
Who are the founders?
– Joseph Silagy, Larry Bowles, and I founded 03XX. The three of us staffed and built the team out. Of the three, I’m the only remaining original member. John Szczepanowski was the first Executive Director – recruited upon his retirement from the Marine Corps. He was the District Injured Support Coordinator (DISC) at the time and had knowledge of the numbers and statistics of veteran’s disabilities and benefits in real time. John is now a Board member. Jim Fox is the original CFO and remains in that position today; he’s been there since our inception. Larry Bowles was the Business Operations Director for most of the last three years, until his resignation in Jan of 2017. Most of the guys were on board and didn’t need convincing because the mission, what we were trying to do and who we were doing it for speaks for itself. As former grunts, we know there is a need for a foundation like ours and we relish in the success of the Marines and Corpsman that we still serve.
What are the challenges today with running a veteran nonprofit?
– There are challenges a-plenty. We’ve had our share of volunteers who loved the idea of being involved with the organization but, for one reason or another, weren’t able to stay committed when faced with the workload. I learned that isn’t the place for pettiness or self-validation. Our organization operates on sheer will to make someone else’s life better who’s less fortunate than we are. This is an all-volunteer unit. We’re constantly doing the right thing, for the right people, for the right reasons. Period. This is about paying it forward to the community. Not about resume bullet points for cool points. These are real lives that we impact. It’s taken some trial and error, but we found the formula for fine-tuning our internal process and continue looking forward for the next big challenge in serving our community.
Where are we now as an organization?
– This question excites me the most. We’re so far ahead of where we were a year ago that it’s surreal. As the Executive Director, I can honestly say that if I were hit by a train tomorrow, the organization would be just fine. A year ago, I couldn’t have said that. I’m so very proud of everyone we have brought into the organization. I’m more honored than I am proud, but the current crew is such an awesome group to work with. Everyone is invested for the right reasons, not for self-validation, but because it’s a mission we all believe in.
Will there still be a need for the 03XX Foundation in the next five to ten years?
– My vision for the next 5-10 years is 1) To pass the torch to the next generation of grunts and continue to do good work, 2) To be able to fund a paid staff comprised of grunts and corpsman. I’d love to be able to hire a few guys with the right stuff to run with the ball and manage the day to day operations. 3) I’d like to see some valuable programs stood up that are a departure from the usual run of the mill programs. Everyone does transition assistance. We’re working on a few programs that will be very powerful and grant our community huge returns for themselves.
Do you have a message for future supporters?
– I personally believe there will always be a need for the 03XX Foundation. Our world is built on conflict. It’s who we are. There will always be a fight between good vs. evil. Good guys will always take the fight to the bad guys. We have a long road ahead of us and we’re ready to push this fight for as long as necessary to ensure no Grunt is ever left behind.