Second Chapter: Mission43 Leaders Fellowship Ignites Veterans’ Passions for Civilian Service Article

Second Chapter: Mission43 Leaders Fellowship Ignites Veterans’ Passions for Civilian Service


Since launching in 2016, Mission43 has continued serving military members and their families as they transition to civilian life at the end of their military service. It seeks to make Idaho the destination for life after the military.

Mission43 has since founded the Leaders Fellowship to empower military members, veterans, and their spouses and unleash the potential of these fellows by investing in their leadership skills and increasing their ability to positively impact Idaho. “It essentially accelerates their leadership in our communities in a meaningful way,” explains Dan Nelson, Director of Mission43.

When Dan Nelson speaks about the incredible success the Leaders Fellowship has seen in its first five years, he is also speaking about his journey as a leader. After serving his country as a U.S. Army Green Beret, Nelson was injured while deployed in 2017, which resulted in a traumatic injury. He was then faced with a reality he had scarcely imagined – retirement. Standing at this crossroads, he learned of Mission43 and the Leaders Fellowship. He applied for and was accepted into the first Cohort of this elite leadership development program and his second life as a leader for Idaho veterans and their families began.

“It was eye-opening for me,” Nelson states. “Some members in my cohort were high-level executives and already very successful. It was intimidating and impressive. My first reaction was, I need to up my game here. Then I realized, If they can do it, so can I.”

Among the original group of fellows were Alison Garrow and Chad Rohr, both of whom are now Mission43 Directors. Other Cohort I fellows included an airline pilot, health care and technology executives, and entrepreneurs all living and working within Idaho.

Six cohorts of fellows have been selected and nearly one hundred are working and volunteering in diverse capacities throughout the state. Cohorts have included fellows serving in influential roles that range from community committees, all levels of education, non-profits, corporations, and everything in between.


The most recent cohort comprises 24 exceptional service members and spouses coming to Idaho from all over the country, from different branches of service, and with a wide range of experience. Cohort V includes nine enlisted members, nine officers, and six military spouses with a combined 386 years of military service.

Michele Bradfield, a military spouse and fellow in Cohort V explains, ”Military life helped me hone my dedication, creativity, and resilience. I have enjoyed a very gratifying career, empowering military communities to thrive – not just survive – while serving our country.”

Nelson asserts, “Personal and professional development go hand-in-hand for those who truly want to achieve, whether creating a new start-up, serving through philanthropy, going into politics, advancing in your current career, or joining the PTA or the HOA in your area. It’s about active citizenship.”

The Fellowship and all the premiere experiences provided are free to those selected. Yet, it is not seen as a gift, but rather as an investment in the extraordinary qualities inherent in its fellows. The goal is to hone and focus their skills, and inspire each person to strive for even loftier goals in the future.

“We want our fellows not to wonder if the military is the last great thing they’ll do,” said Nelson.

“It is a commitment. We invest a great deal into the fellows, so we don’t want anyone to take lightly applying to Leaders Fellowship…let alone accepting it,“ cautions Nelson. “We are demanding, and it is a lifelong undertaking. That’s a big ask.”


The competitive application process for the Fellowship is open each year from January through February. Once chosen, fellows participate in a mentally and physically rigorous four-phase program, beginning in April and lasting for a year. However, the fourth and final phase is not seen as an ending, but rather the beginning of the fellows’ roles in mentoring and continued service for their communities.

The first two phases of the Leaders Fellowship focus on introspection and personal growth. This is based on the idea that before leading others, fellows must be able to lead themselves first. The initial phase includes an intensive two-day gathering facilitated by author Mike Erwin.

“The big focus is on how to help people to better understand character to build better relationships,” states Erwin. “When you do that, it carries over both in your personal and professional life.”

In the second phase fellows experience an immersive wilderness weekend. They spend three days and nights in the beautiful yet remote Sawtooth Mountains, completing a grueling 30-mile hike. Working together in small groups, this experience is designed to increase self-awareness, trust, and bonding within the cohort.

“Proving that I could conquer that mountain demonstrated that I can achieve whatever I set out to do; I can pursue big dreams. And that’s precisely what I do every day,” Bradfield affirms.

In the third phase of the Fellowship, the cohort has access to key leaders serving Idaho. The fellows have the opportunity to hear these leaders share their personal philosophies and insights to their success. 

Nelson reflects that, “Our guests come from all different industries. They are all over the map in their leadership philosophies, and their approaches vary completely. Yet, they are all successful. You realize that there are a multitude of leadership styles that can be effective.”

During these sessions, the fellows also have unprecedented access to connect personally with these mentors, building powerful networks that the fellows can rely on for guidance and support long after the program. Some eminent speakers have included Bill Whitacre (former CEO of Simplot), Lisa Grow (CEO of Idaho Power), and Muffy Davis (Paralympic gold medalist and Idaho State Representative).

“It’s a unique opportunity to access our state and business leaders in Idaho in a way that is not available for most people, and when our guests say to reach out, they really mean it. They’ll be there, and they’ll follow up,” attests Nelson

Sven Anderson, retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer and a fellow in Cohort IV relates, “The speaker series helped me think about how I view success and how I apply my leadership capabilities now that I am a veteran.” Anderson continues, “I am now connected with an incredible group of supportive and caring people whom I call friends, and who challenge me to move forward in positive ways. I think many of the relationships I’ve made have even helped me to be a better husband and father.”

In the final phase, the fellows apply their realizations and learning from throughout the year by developing an actionable, detailed plan to outline the next steps on their path for the future. Nelson describes it as a space for a public declaration of both personal and professional goals and an opportunity for the fellows to be challenged by their peers about following through on those objectives.

“There are a lot of hard right and hard left turns throughout the year,” relates Nelson. “It is an opportunity for the fellows to put those thoughts on paper and use all of the rich experiences they received through the Fellowship to decide how they can best leverage their talents.”

Looking back at his experience in Phase IV, Anderson reflects, “It challenged me to think and focus on what is important to me during this next chapter of my life. The Fellowship challenges you with hard questions and makes you self-reflect. I think about my plan often and it helps me prioritize.”

The cohort is an essential part of this process. “There’s a lot of power in that cohort. Peers serve as mirrors to remind you of your commitments, to challenge your views and approaches to difficult situations,” says Nelson.


Over the last five years, very few aspects of the Fellowship’s original concept have changed. The size of each cohort has not significantly expanded, despite an increase in applicants. The small number of fellows creates familiarity and bonding which is a critical ingredient in the magic of these groups. 

“Mission43 values the leaders coming from the Fellowship. We are seeing measurable and tangible results and our fellows become part of a pipeline of talented people, ready to serve their state and face any problem head-on,” concludes Nelson.

And though the fellow’s presentations may mark the end of their fellowship, it is really only the starting point of their commitment to their cohort, to Mission43, and to our state. The fellows become the ambassadors for Mission43 and are the organization’s best recruiting tool by sharing their experience and their leadership qualities with others throughout Idaho and the country.

“Service doesn’t end when you take off the uniform, it just looks different,” states Anderson. “As a Leaders Fellow I not only get to serve, but I get to serve next to people who I love and who have the same passion for our community and Idaho.”


Mission43 Leaders Fellowship: Program with a Purpose (video)
Mission43 Leaders Fellowship: Cohort V (video)
Mission43 Podcast

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