Team RubiconShared with the permission of Team Rubicon. This blog was originally posted here.
Like so many, I found Team Rubicon in the middle of a personal crisis. Drowning in my own struggles, I hadn’t left the house in weeks. I knew I needed something, but I didn’t know what that something was or from where it might come. My “Hail Mary” opportunity came in the form of an email from Team Rubicon informing me volunteers were still needed for a service project in Detroit.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked as I found myself making the four-hour trek to the Mobilization Exercise in the Motor City. “If it’s just a bunch of kumbaya bull****, I can always turn around and go home.” It wasn’t, and I didn’t.
I stayed and — amongst other activities — learned how to use a chainsaw, met some amazing people, and found myself laughing and cracking jokes in a way I hadn’t for years. In so many ways, it felt like coming home.
I can’t and won’t speak for other veterans, but in the years since I’ve been out of the military I’ve heard the same story over and over from other Afghanistan and Iraq war vets: “I don’t fit in.” The disconnect between those who followed a more traditional college and career path and those of us who stepped out of line to put on a uniform feels very profound. Our lives and experiences don’t fit into neat little boxes on college and job applications. Separated in space and time from the support networks we built in the military, the civilian-military divide never feels more distinct than in a time of crisis.
Family and friends want to understand, and veterans want to explain their feelings, but very different experiences and perspectives have built what seem like an insurmountable wall. Too many veterans have succumbed to that sense of alienation. I needed something to bridge that gap. I know many others do as well. I know many of us have found that bridge within the ranks of Team Rubicon.
Team Rubicon Since that first dewy morning in Detroit, I’ve traveled all over North America responding to disasters. I’ve sweltered in Louisiana, shivered in Alberta, and fought mosquitos and ticks in the Midwest as Team Rubicon has responded to floods, fires, and tornadoes. At every turn, I’ve been moved to tears helping homeowners searching for solutions amongst the ruin of their homes. At every turn, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity and compassion of my fellow Greyshirts as they turned out time and time again to help those in need.
So many of us first put on a uniform because we wanted to serve. “The Service” isn’t just a noun, it’s a task — a calling. It’s a continuing part of who we are. We were and are volunteers first and foremost. Most veterans I speak to don’t want handouts, or sympathy, or to be treated like victims. Most veterans I’ve spoken to just want an opportunity. They want their value to be acknowledged, and they want the opportunity to put their skills and experience to work in a way that helps others. We first put on the uniform to serve our country, and once we take it off that drive to serve remains. Team Rubicon gives us that opportunity to serve again.
Months after my baptismal deployment, I found my Team Rubicon experience coming full circle as I was asked to lead our relief effort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A devastating wildfire had roared through the town, consuming thousands of structures and killing fifteen residents. Team Rubicon was responding. Would I lead them?
“Can I lead them?” I asked myself. Others were ostensibly more qualified. Our volunteers on the ground would include command sergeants major, Fortune 500 executives, and men and women with a lot more combat and leadership experience than I possessed in either my military or civilian careers. It was a tremendous project, and even with the support of Team Rubicon’s national operations personnel, the task was daunting.
In both the military and Team Rubicon culture, we are taught to embrace the challenge and step into the arena. So step I did, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. As incident commander, I was able to witness, time and again, that moment when new Greyshirts become believers in the organization. The dual discovery of camaraderie and organizational purpose is magical, and seeing others find it is a gift like no other.
A wildfire is unique because of its power and its ferocity. Impacted towns look like warzones, the houses reduced to smoldering foundations. Survivors are frequently shell-shocked, enduring their own emotional trauma when we encounter them.
Gatlinburg was no exception. The combat life experience of our members is seldom more applicable than when talking to a wildfire survivor. “It’s going to be ok,” we tell them. And they know they can trust us, because we’ve been there too. Observing the men and women of Team Rubicon share this understanding with survivors is eye-opening. In reducing the pain felt by this community, it’s almost as if our members have taken away some of their own pain as well. The burden is lighter and easier to carry. It’s catharsis.
This organization lives and breathes in its people — we channel all of the good parts of the military experience and funnel that into our communities. Our members benefit because of that. They discover each other, they discover our citizens, and in doing that they discover themselves. We see the possibility of who we can be, of who we really are, as we serve those impacted by disasters.
Our communities also have benefited. They benefit directly in the thousands of labor hours we pour into recovery efforts. They benefit from gaining a sense of hope as we tear down the barriers keeping them from their homes and help them recover memories they believed lost. And they benefit as they comprehend our veterans are not broken cast offs, but resilient leaders showing them a path to recovery after a disaster.
I know I personally have benefited. That became crystal clear to me in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Seeing others at the beginning of their Greyshirt journey gives me a sense of how far I’ve come, thanks to the faith and trust of my fellow members.
I also know that Team Rubicon hasn’t solved all of my problems. That’s a journey I’m still on. But it has given me the tools and the support network to solve them. More importantly, it’s given me a reason to do so.
Team Rubicon gave me a mission — to serve those who serve all of us. God help me succeed at it.
Drew is a Team Rubicon volunteer from Region V, Clay Hunt Fellow, and Army veteran. He dedicates his continuing service to Jerod and Ray.
Team Rubicon’s primary mission is providing disaster relief to those affected by natural disasters, be they domestic or international. By pairing the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders, medical professionals, and technology solutions, Team Rubicon aims to provide the greatest service and impact possible.