176: Derek Abby is the CEO and President of Project Recover. He is a badass Marine who combined his service with education to get his PhD in leadership. He since has gone onto help recover MIA’s around the world and bring back our vets who were lost in war…

November 6, 2020

Derek Abby

How did Derek Abby deal with his parents divorcing early on in his life and his mother dying when he was only 13?  “As a 13-year-old, you don’t usually deal with it very well. You don’t have the tools for it. There is no rule book you can read or anything like that, especially back then, and it was completely unexpected. My mom was there, healthy one day, and then had a brain aneurysm and was gone the following day. So, my life was turned upside down. I was 13, completely lost my rotor and sail, didn’t really know what direction I was going to go in. I ended up going and living with my aunt and uncle.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Derek Abby, Former U.S. Marine with three deployments to Iraq and one deployment to Afghanistan and the President and CEO of Project Recover about how he ended up joining the Marine Corp. “I never really had aspirations of joining the military. Although, when I was young I kind of looked up to men that had served in the military and they were these role models to me in some ways. In most ways they were fantasies because they weren’t really people to me. But, I ran away to the Marine Corp. Honestly, I needed a place to go.”

What You Will Learn:

Even though Derek Abby didn’t grow up dreaming about being a soldier, it looked like the best option to get his life situated for success. “I was looking at the military because it was an escape. It was something to get me out of where I was. I looked to the military, and I saw the Marine Corp., and honestly like so many young people, they had the best uniforms, and it seemed like the hardest. It seemed like the biggest challenge. I found myself in the recruiters office, and that was an easy sell. Not too long after that I was in boot camp.”

What was going on in the world when Derek Abby joined the military? “There was another thing that was going on. When I signed up Saddam Hussein had crossed the border into Kuwait, and we were dealing with him with Desert Storm and Desert Shield. So, he invaded on August 2nd, and on August 30th was when I signed the papers. That was kind of the extra motivation, a way to prove myself, a way to go on and play my part, do something of value, really.”

Derek Abby describes what his career trajectory in the Marine Corp. was like. “I was a successful young Marine and I invested in the Marine Corp. I truly gave my heart and soul to it. In turn they invested in me. So, I got an education. I ended up getting a commission and then was commissioned to Ground Officer, actually. All Marines have to go through a six-month school called the Basic School where you learned basic infantry tactics and company-level officer stuff. While I was there, I was selected for Flight School and ended up getting sent to Flight School and became a Marine Aviator.”

What exactly is a Plank Holder in the military? “It is an original member. So, when they establish a unit, the very first people in that unit are considered ‘plank holders.’ It comes from the nautical tradition, the Navy tradition of the Marine Corp., the planks of the ships. I was part of the First Battalion, which is now the First Raider Battalion. It was First Marines Special Operations Battalion when it started, and the first Delta Company over there. I started as a First Battalion Air Officer while we were building out the battalion. Then when we started Delta Company I became the Air Officer for Delta Company, and ultimately the X of Delta Company and deployed to Afghanistan.”

In what way did Derek Abby connect his education to his military experience? “I wanted to examine what was the thing that was causing all of this friction for military members when they are separating, and it turns out, for the most part, beyond injuries and things like that, both mental and physical injuries. It is these intangible pieces. So it is that perceived loss of identity and exploring what other identities you hold, having those intimate relationships that you gain and maintain through shared experience, through shared hardship. All of those things going on, deployment, depending on others. Same thing growing up as an athlete, committing your life to it. Then you step out of that system and now you have to find what that new legacy is going to be. What is that new impact or what is your new purpose?”

Project Recover in Action

Derek Abby defines what Project Recover is and the objectives that they have as part of their overall mission. “Project Recover is a non-profit organization and we search for Americans missing in action in our previous wars. That goes all the way back to World War II. Most people don’t realise, but there are 82,000 Americans still missing in action, and when they hear POW  MIA., things like that, most times they think of Vietnam and that is realistic. But, of those 82,000, 72,000 are from World War II, 7,000 are from the Korean conflict, and now less than 1,600 remain M.I.A. from the Vietnam conflict. We have done work mostly in the World War II era sites. But we have come all the way up to Desert Storm.”

Finding Missing U.S. Military Personnel  

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, Derek Abby also discusses how Project Recover goes about locating missing military members. “We gather information year-round and we do search missions throughout the world based on the information and the data that we gather and we search for sites. We identify those sites. Who is associated with those sites? Traditionally we have turned that information over to the Department of Defense. Their organization is called the Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency, DPAA. They have made the decision to do recovery on those sites that we have located. But now our mission has expanded into recovery and cooperation with DPAA. So we are doing everything from initial research, searching the waters and jungles all over the world for these people who are missing.”

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