It was 104 degrees in the former Team Rubicon office in Inglewood, CA when a simple question drove me into Jake Wood’s office. I’d fallen into a combat veteran’s world on arrival to headquarters – a new culture, a new language, a new way of getting things done. Me, a young civie standing beside men and women advanced far beyond their years, and my own. I felt strangely at home – and yet apart. I was left asking: what part does the non-veteran play in TR’s evolving story?
So there I stood, at the end of an excruciatingly long day, with the question posed. Jake looked up somewhat surprised, paused, and said: “Well, you can’t have the discussion about veteran reintegration without them being present.” The conversation progressed, but the idea of an ongoing dialogue struck me. I thought I knew what that word meant. I had no clue.
I arrived to organized chaos in Moore, OK. The best kind there is. Good men and women giving their best beside people they’d never met, for people they’d never know. Long days and hard work forged friendships unlike any other I’ve experienced. I was with family. I was home.
More than a few tears were shed during Operation: Starting Gun. They fell for comrades lost, community found, shared pain, and boatloads of stress. But among the non-veterans, many came from stepping through the looking glass. There is no preparation in our society for the moment when a person, who you’ve come to love and respect as family in a matter of hours or days, reveals the truth. That the strength, wisdom, and resilience, forged in them by adversity is matched by inconceivable trauma. That their brilliant spirit could be snuffed by a single moment gone wrong, a single thought too far. We saw, and we understood, for the first time. We could no longer be passive observers. And most of us cried.
Since those days I have seen much more: a mother rejoicing at the discovery of a community awaiting her children returning from the war, men crying at the thought of what would happen if TR disappeared, veterans hugging a hazed civilian medic – calling him their brother; a young homeless veteran giving every ounce of effort to the mission; and his teammate, a young non-veteran, making sure he had a home to return to.
I’m still learning what the word “dialogue” means, but I’m beginning to understand my part. I remember hearing, “What better job in the world than to build a bridge? Bring land over water. Bring worlds together.” By observing, listening, learning, reaching out, and bearing witness, Team Rubicon’s non-veteran members will always have a key role in bridging the gap. We help merge the best of all worlds – a key to our success in disaster response. But, more importantly, we can help others take their first steps off the sidelines of a conversation that will define our nation for years to come.