Mission United Connects Veterans Needing Community, Support

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Laura Whitfield

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USMC veteran Laura Whitfield and volunteers.
USMC veteran Laura Whitfield (second left) poses with attendees and volunteers at an event.

“We Believe in Veteran Empowerment”  
Laura Whitfield and Mission United-Miami equip veterans for success 

Finding the right career path wasn’t always clear for Marine Corps veteran Laura Whitfield, senior director at Mission United – Miami. Whitfield helps veterans find employment, housing, and legal services. In a recent conversation with the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Whitfield described how her past military and professional experience led her down an unlikely yet rewarding path. 

During high school in Philadelphia Whitfield met with a Marine Corps recruiter after their uniform caught her eye. “I said to myself, ‘Okay, I want to learn more about that branch, because if I can dress like that, I’ll be happy,’” she says with a smile.  

After speaking with the recruiter about joining the Marines and how there were significant opportunities for women, she decided to enlist. 

Following recruit training in Parris Island, she attended a Marines’ administrative school. Her career took her across the Southeastern US, and eventually overseas. Returning stateside, she earned a supervisor role at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.  

When the time came to re-enlist, Whitfield took the advice of her mentor and changed her Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) from Personnel Administration to Public Affairs. 

“I left Cherry Point and went to Quantico, Virginia, to work in the Public Affairs office for about a year and a half,” Whitfield tells us. “Then, I went to the Defense Information School for broadcast journalism. The path for anyone who finishes that school is to serve with the Far East Network in Tokyo.” 

Hardships and Unlikely Opportunities

Whitfield spent the remainder of her service in Japan, working as a Marines broadcast journalist. She stayed in Tokyo with her husband and children for three years after her service ended while her husband served on-base. Whitfield completed her Bachelor’s degree during that period the family had to abruptly leave for California. 

“We had to be medevacked to a children’s hospital in Oakland,” Whitfield said. “Our youngest daughter was born with a heart defect and needed treatment there. We spent almost a year in Northern California while she had surgeries, but unfortunately, she didn’t make it.”

In 1989, Whitfield and her husband made the decision to leave the military and settle into civilian life. After some time in Japan, California, and then back to Japan, they settled in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1994. Finding work as a civilian was not easy — veteran support wasn’t what it is today.

“We had [a] Veterans Affairs’ home loan but, beyond that, not much else was communicated to us in terms of support,” Whitfield recalls. “It was hard to get back into the workplace, even with all my experience in broadcast journalism. That field is very selective. I credit my sister in guiding me into the career I ended up choosing, which was human resources.” 

Whitfield told us she started at the bottom as a temporary employee. After becoming an HR generalist, Whitfield developed her professional skills in organizational development and that’s when she found her calling. 

“That just sparked a passion and fire in me because I was helping others develop themselves,” Whitfield says. 

USMC veteran Laura Whitfield
USMC veteran Laura Whitfield

Catching the “Nonprofit Bug” with Mission United

While in Orlando, Florida, working as a consultant for an HR outsourcing company, she was paired with United Way Heart of Florida. For the next six years, she assisted leadership develop their skills while adopting a new organizational structure. It was during this time that Whitfield “caught the nonprofit bug,” as she puts it. 

After that assignment, Whitfield continued consulting other clients but wanted more permanent work. Luckily one of her United Way and Mission United connections was eager to help. 

“I got a call from the CFO of United Way Heart of Florida, and they asked if I could work temporarily as the HR Director,” Whitfield remembers. “I said ‘let’s do it!’  

Not content with Whitfield leaving again, United Way chose her to run the organization’s veteran-serving branch, Mission United Heart of Florida. Whitfield says this was a “natural progression” from her experience as an HR professional and as a Marine Corps veteran. 

“I felt like I needed to do more to help my brothers and sisters who served,” Whitfield says. “I ran that program from 2018 to mid-2019, then I was recruited by United Way Miami to build that program here.” 

Whitfield describes a recent instance where a fellow Marine Corps veteran reached out for support, which is further detailed in the video below. 

“I have to plug my Marine Corps sister,” Whitfield says. “She’s a single mom who lost her income after her consulting business lost clients; all while her rent was going up. So, we worked with her to make her whole in terms of rent, and now she has relaunched her business. We even found her a scholarship to get a required certification.”

Whitfield encourages all veterans to seek the help they need whenever they need it. She advises that it’s never too early for active-duty service members to start planning for the transition to civilian life.

“Start preparing as soon as possible,” Whitfield urges. “Think about what you’re passionate about and how you can take some of your military experience and apply it to a totally new career path.” 

Mission United – United Way Miami Dade is supported through our partnership with Craig Newmark Philanthropies.