« Back to Volunteer Diary

How Can I Not?

Pat Gustafson

Pat Gustafson is a former Chief Nurse of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps currently residing in Cheyenne, WY.

“Why do you do it?”

“Why do you leave your nice, comfortable life and go work so hard? Sleep on the ground? Eat MRE’s instead of a hot meal? Get banged up and bruised, so sore you feel like have been hit with a stick?”

I get asked that all the time. Hell, I ask myself that, and all the while I am packing my go bag. It’s not always easy, or convenient to go, but how can I not? That is the bigger question.

Team Rubicon member Pat Gustafson stacks school materials found in the rubble inside a local school in Sermantang.
Pat deployed on Operation: Tenzing in Nepal and helped clean up and rebuild a local school in the village of Sermantang.

There have been nights when I crawled into my sleeping bag a little cold, a lot tired, in some location I am not familiar with, maybe even a little scared (I try not to let it show, but it’s hard). I’m wondering if I have made a huge mistake in going when the call was sent out. In the dark, still of the night, hiding under my covers, a silent tear slides down my cheek and I pray that God will help me, that I will be strong enough, smart enough to hang in there. Because I don’t know if I am tough enough to make it through another day.

Pat returns a greeting to a young child during a reconnaissance mission in the Tetopani area of Nepal.
Returning a greeting to a young child during a reconnaissance mission in the Tetopani area of Nepal.

But the next day dawns, the sun rises. Groaning, I sit up and look around a room with 30 other Team Rubicon volunteers and see men and women, many I have never met before, and realize that together, we will face the new day. And there is strength! There is purpose! I am not alone. These are my Brothers and Sisters and shoulder to shoulder WE CAN!

Pat helped clear the rubble in remote villages impacted by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015.
Pat helped clear the rubble in remote villages impacted by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015.

I arrive at an area and stand in the midst of the devastating effects of a natural disaster. I am shocked and awed by the sheer power and loss that has occurred. Homes, lives, dreams, and hopes are the casualties – violently and without warning, destroyed. Individuals and families stand huddled, asking “Why?” wondering “How?” Their heads slowly shaking ”no,” vacant stares, unsure, not knowing how they can even begin to start picking up the pieces of their lives. Most are thankful their lives have been spared, others grieving because some lives were not.

Pat supported Operation: Friendly Ghost in Wyoming to clean up after the Cole Creek Fire.
When Region VIII launched Operation: Friendly Ghost in her home state of Wyoming, Pat deployed to help clean up after the Cole Creek Fire.

A Team Rubicon strike team walks up. A ground swell garbed in grey shirts armed with shovels and rakes and hope.

We say to them, ”We are here to help”.
They say, “But I don’t even know where to start.”
We shake their hand, maybe put an arm around their shoulder.
“We do.”
And in a small voice in my mind I hear, “How can I not?”

Members of Region VIII gather after closing out the operation in Wyoming last month.
Members of Region VIII gather after closing out the operation in Wyoming last month.