Editor’s Note: Marine Lt. Colonel, attorney and Veterans Advantage HeroVet Justine Constantine died on May 6, after a bout with cancer. Justin was severely wounded and narrowly escaped death from a sniper’s bullet to the head in Iraq in 2006. He endured countless surgeries, and with the support of his spouse, Dahlia, recovered and became a nationally recognized author and tireless advocate for Veterans. His HeroVet profile of 2016 is republished below. It is a story of great determination and resilience that serves as inspiration for all of us. He will be greatly missed.
Marine Corps. Veteran Justin Constantine was shot in the head by sniper fire in Iraq 10 years ago. Since that day, he has turned what was once a near-death wartime experience into the opportunity to give back to others. He has just published his first book, My Battlefield, Your Office: Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines, which serves as an inspirational roadmap to guide others for success in their professional careers.
In his book, he recommends “Be A Great Citizen,” and credits his injury with prompting his first decision to give back in civilian life, starting as a volunteer in Washington DC’s Literacy Center to help adults learn to read and write. Since then, his passion for helping others has flourished. Today, Justin frequently lectures and advises his fellow veterans who are young executives on how to navigate the post-9/11 world.
Justin further describes how during his recovery, his wife Dahlia provided him early inspiration, with her tireless dedication as his primary caregiver, logging 18-hour days of care and filling needs as basic as feeding him. Her devotion gave Justin a new perspective on making time for relationships, so that “if there is not a family member or friend that you are close to, maybe it is time to make that one of your priorities,” he advises in his book.
His seeds for success were planted long ago, beginning with his family’s military roots. Constantine’s family history dates back to service in the Civil War. His grandfather and two uncles served in WWII, and his father was a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force. More recently, his older brother retired from the Air Force as a Colonel after deploying to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
“My entrepreneurial spirit started young, and I seemed to thrive in environments that were challenging,” says the Fairfax, Virginia native in an exclusive interview with Veterans Advantage. He was fresh off two-and-a-half days committed to helping the Focus Marines Foundation, a charitable organization established in 2010 to help Marines, Sailors, Navy Corpsmen and other service members with the invisible wounds of war, both post-traumatic stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Seeking academic challenges, Justin had a paper route for four years to help save up for college. He earned his degree from James Madison University in 1992 with a double major in English and Political Science and a minor in German. He graduated from the University of Denver School of Law in 1998 and later from Georgetown University with a Master of Laws (LLM) degree focusing on National Security.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps after his second year of law school when a Vietnam vet and family friend encouraged him to enlist. He had given him the book ‘Fields of Fire,’ by Senator Jim Webb, that further inspired him to join the Corps.
While on active duty, he served as a Judge Advocate and worked as a defense counsel and criminal prosecutor. He deployed to Iraq in 2006, acting as a Civil Affairs Team Leader while attached to an infantry battalion. The original prognosis was that he had been killed in action when he took the shot in the head from a sniper. Thankfully – and partly through the help of his own leader at the time – he lived to tell his story to inspire other vets to become leaders after their service.
His new book focuses on the notion that leadership is a learned skill.
“I think the greatest challenge people face is making the overt decision to be a great leader, and then designing a game plan on how to make that happen,” he says. “I believe we all have so much to learn from others, and it is important to surround yourself with people who can push you in the right direction.”
CHANGE IS OPPORTUNITY
It's worth noting that the "overt decision" by Lieutenant Colonel Todd Desgrosseilliers, his battalion commander in Iraq, and Navy Corpsman George Grant, to give swift attention to the fallen Marine made the difference between life and death. And, given the dramatic series of events that befell him, just as remarkably, Constantine made the "overt decision" to cope with his sudden disabilities and successfully transition to civilian life in a way that bolsters others.
As he writes in his book, in the chapter fittingly called “Change is Opportunity”: "The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, ‘Change is the only constant in life.’ I believe a person’s ability to embrace and positively reach to change is one of the biggest determinations of how life will proceed for that individual."
“Having served in the military has made us stronger, and most challenges we face in civilian life pale in comparison to what we have already overcome,” he says about his fellow veterans. He encourages them to use that experience and expertise to their advantage when entering the corporate world.
COMMITTED TO HELPING FELLOW VETS
Today, Justin is fully engaged in creating stronger communities that support veterans and their families and providing greater employment opportunities for them.
He serves on several charitable boards to help his fellow veterans -- Give An Hour, Wounded Warrior Project, and SemperMax – and has been named a Champion of Change by the White House. At the 2013 All-American Inaugural Ball, he was presented with the All-American Hero Award. Justin was also a founding principal of Veteran Integration Solutions, a disabled veteran owned small business that designs, develops and delivers customized and engaging training to assist organizations with every aspect of their military hiring programs.
Justin speaks regularly to corporations about leadership, overcoming adversity and the upside of change. He also encourages corporations to hire veterans through his senior advisor role with the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s "Hiring Our Heroes," a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.
“You can help with your time, your money, the resources of your company, or a combination of all three. The important thing is that if you hear about something that speaks to you, then get involved with it,” he writes.
On January 7, 2015, at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Friars Foundation, the charitable arm of the Friars Club, recognized Justin Constantine, in part for helping to raise more than $200,000 for veteran-related non-profit organizations. He received one of the Foundation's first Lincoln Awards, a new lifetime achievement recognition for selfless service by a veteran and outstanding achievement and excellence in providing aid and opportunities to other veterans.
Justin is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholar. His writing on military and leadership issues has been featured in such outlets as CNN, Time, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Forbes magazine, USA Today, Business Insider, Stars and Stripes and the Huffington Post.
Justin's many other "giving-back" accomplishments and awards include:
* Serving four years on a U.S. Congressionally-mandated Task Force for Recovering Warriors, appointed by the Department of Defense.
* Co-founding the Veteran Success Resource Group in 2015, a military nonprofit that provides full spectrum resources for veterans and their families to connect with community businesses, veteran service organizations, government agencies and universities.
* Introducing President George W. Bush at a veterans’ symposium at the Bush Institute in February 2014.
* Receiving a commending resolution in 2012 from the Virginia legislature, highlighting his continued support of veterans and other wounded warriors.
Image Credit: https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2016/06/13/wounded-marine-to-trump-you-do-not-represent-veterans/