‘If anything ever happens to me…’: Fallen Navy SEAL inspires parents’ mission to give back

By Steven Shapiro

John Kelsall’s grief is masked by pride as he shows off the trident pin his son Jonas earned when he became a U.S. Navy SEAL. “It’s one of my most prized possessions,” he says.

Lt. Cmdr. Jonas Kelsall was killed in action during a mission in Afghanistan in 2011 that took the lives of 30 Americans and a military service dog.

“He said, ‘If anything ever happens to me, know I’m doing what I love with the guys I love doing it with. And I wouldn’t want to do anything else,’” his father says.

Following his death, his parents established a nonprofit in his honor to give back to those who have served their country.

John and Teri Kelsall spoke with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric about The Jonas Project and its mission to help returning veterans launch and grow their own businesses.

“The mentor is the most vital part of the program,” Teri Kelsall told Couric. “It’s a two-year commitment on the mentor’s part, who is a volunteer.”

“We want our veterans to feel like they can continue contributing in a positive way and still pursue their passion,” says Jonas’ sister, Kim Kelsall Dossett, who is also a member of the Jonas Project’s team.

Veterans who apply to the Jonas Project have to be honorably discharged, and they have to submit a business plan for review. Once accepted, they receive help with financing, in addition to valuable guidance from their mentors.

Monica Vasquez is one of the Jonas Project’s greatest success stories. The Iraq war veteran was accepted to the program to help launch her own construction company.

“The best thing I can say is just they’re the type of people who will light a fire under you and get you motivated to make you say, ‘Man, I can do this.’”

Others, like Teague Savitch, owner of Blue Bowl Superfoods, has had a similar positive experience.

“The Jonas Project afforded me a bit of that foundation to help me address these decisions and questions that come flying at me.”

Transitioning from military service to the civilian workforce can be one of the most difficult periods for a veteran.

“Whether you are going to work for another company or whether you are starting your own business, you need to remember that there’s still a learning curve. You now need to reinvent yourself,” says Zach Iscol, founder & CEO of Hirepurpose, a company that helps veterans and their spouses transition to careers outside of the military.

“I think any organization like the Jonas Project that helps veterans, that provides, especially, the mentorship and the network that folks need to start their own business, is invaluable, “ he added.

John Kelsall says the work in memory of Jonas is just the beginning.

“He made us incredibly proud. This is our way of trying to make him proud. And I think we’re getting there. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting there.”