« Back to Blog

Bouncing Back with Purpose

Joe Kaye

Marine veteran Joe Kaye serves as the New York Field Operations Coordinator and a heavy equipment instructor with Team Rubicon.

Not too long ago I was downsized at my six-figure corporate job. A few months later, my wife of 21 years and I mutually agreed to divorce. Not long after that, we decided to give our house back to the bank. I was lost. I had no direction. No motivation. One of the lowest points of my life. I worked odd jobs to pay the bills. I wasted my free time around the new studio apartment watching TV and on the computer.

Cruising the internet this past summer, I found Team Rubicon, again. I had signed up six or eight months before but couldn’t fit it into my schedule. I looked into other groups before, but none had a mission that really spoke to me. TR really did. I had time now. I requested a new password, jumped right in, and finished Module 1 and my background check paperwork that night. I completed ICS 200 and 800 the next day. I looked into a few service projects in my area but couldn’t make anything work with my schedule.

Then I got an email. Team Rubicon was looking for Heavy Equipment instructors. I nearly passed out. Heavy equipment operation has always been one of the best jobs I ever had. I ran equipment full time, 60 hours a week for five or so years. Surely Team Rubicon could use my experience. But I was the new guy. Heck, I just signed up a couple of months ago and hadn’t even earned my grey shirt yet. I sent my resume, wrote a few paragraphs on why I wanted the position and fired it off, never expecting a response. I got an email, then a phone interview, then another email and dispatch instructions to South Padre Island, Texas for the end of November. The compass needle stopped spinning, it still wandered a bit, but the dizziness had stopped. The program was brand new – we were to be the first instructors. Another class would follow in winter and we would all reconvene again in April to finalize our training. We wouldn’t be deploying heavy equipment until after spring.

After getting the email, Joe immediately signed up for the Heavy Equipment Instructor Training with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
After getting the email, Joe immediately signed up for the Heavy Equipment Instructor Training with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Christmas week, a devastating set of tornadoes swept through just south of Dallas. I got a phone call, “How quick can you be ready to go to Dallas? We are doing this thing.” “But what happened to spring?” I asked. “Dallas needs us, are you in?” My bag was packed before I hung up the phone. Operation Bankhead Blitz saw the first use of the new TR Heavy Equipment program. I was tasked as Division Supervisor for the HE team. Cool, and nerve-wrecking at the same time. My first operation ever, and I’m running a brand new, never field-tested program. No pressure.

Joe joined the crew in Texas during Operation Bankhead Blitz, thanking the community for their ongoing support.
Joe joined the crew in Texas during Operation Bankhead Blitz, thanking the community for their ongoing support.

But we kicked ass. Four other awesome equipment operators and I tore down 26 houses and one church in just over a week. We created 8,000 cubic yards of debris and helped a very grateful community on their darkest day. But in their darkest days, I found MY light. My purpose. I found the ability to give back some of that light to people who had lost everything. A place I had found myself when my life turned upside down not that long before. I found where I TRuly belonged. I found my Tribe.

When time allows, Joe joins his fellow Region II members on service projects throughout New York and New Jersey.
When time allows, Joe joins his fellow Region II members on service projects throughout New York and New Jersey.

And TR? TR got a proof of concept on an amazing new program that will continue to be a huge force multiplier in the field. It really doesn’t get any better than that.