Vincent Morales grew up in a family surrounded by members of the U.S military. His grandfather, a WWII veteran, was a prisoner of war; his mother, Teresa, and father, George, are Air Force veterans; his brother, Sergeant Jesus Morales, is on active duty in Georgia, along with many uncles and other relatives.
As a teen growing up on the west side of Kansas City, Missouri, Vincent had a rebellious streak. Knowing that he needed a better direction in life, he turned to the U.S. Army.
Morales was denied his first enlistment request due to his record from his teenage years. Then, after the tragic events of 9/11, he enlisted in 2003 at the age of 20 and continued the family tradition of pursuing a military career.
Upon completion of One Station Unit Training, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Morales earned the Military Occupational Specialty of combat engineer (12B). Once stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington, Morales was deployed to Iraq for a year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Shortly after his return, he was sent to Germany and then to the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Baqubah for two years. During this time, he served as squad leader, platoon sergeant and IED Blow in Place disposal team commander. Morales recalls this assignment as one of the toughest he faced.
“On a mission, our squad was ambushed and my best friend, Tyler, who I met at basic training, was hurt and ended up passing away in my arms. I had the privilege of helping him ease into the next world,” he recalls. “From that experience, I’ve been able to think about Tyler every day. Even though I have had it bad at times, there are brothers and sisters who have lost their right and ability to complain even about the small things—rent, how high gas is, taxes and politics— and that is something that motivated me to serve my fellow veterans.”
In 2009, after serving three tours, Morales joined the U.S. Army Reserves. He has found his “true calling” with his new role as a peer mentor at The Salvation Army’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) of the Kansas and Western Missouri Division.
“Morales works with veterans— many who are homeless—to get them into secure, permanent housing. I knew I wanted to work with veterans, and the position I have is amazing,” he says. “I feel like I have soldiers. Our goal is to get veterans and soldiers off the street and into housing.”
While housing services come first, Morales also focuses on locating veterans, helping them to navigate the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and providing them with one-on-one mentoring sessions. “Our clients come from a range of military eras,” he shares. “I’m not a counselor, but my job is to be there as a fellow veteran, as their brother, and help them realize that there are other alternatives to their situation.
“’No’ is not an answer for me, as a veteran and as a peer mentor. Telling a family no is not in my vocabulary.”
The SSVF program is segmented into two sections. Rapid Rehousing (RR) is a housing assistance program for veterans on the street. The Homeless Prevention (HP) funding section is a program for preventative situations, as in the case of a veteran who was recently laid off and needed assistance to avoid becoming homeless. In working closely with such individuals, Morales has found his niche as he has built connections that lead to successful transitions for veterans in the Greater Kansas City area.
“I think of myself as the Swiss army knife of The Salvation Army,” he says. “We are a housing-first program, but there are other places I connect our veterans. I work with the Veterans Administration on benefits and healthcare issues, with the veterans center and many other community partners to help these individuals with all aspects of their life.”
The Salvation Army is the resource that unites all of these programs, Morales explains. He directs his clients to the food pantries, housing shelters, ministry services and more. He has big dreams for the SSVF program, with one primary goal for the future. “I’d love to see The Salvation Army operating a veterans shelter [in the Kansas City area]” he says. “While we have shelters, we don’t have something specifically for our veterans.”