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If Not Me, Then Who?

Matt Pelak

A career civil servant, Matt has spent over 15 years in the Army on active duty and in the National Guard, including a deployment to Iraq in 2004. Today, he is Team Rubicon's International Operations Chief, and has previously served as a contractor for the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service with multiple deployments to Iraq as well as work in Africa. In the civilian sector, Matt worked as a paramedic for over 12 years and in Poughkeepsie, NY as a firefighter/paramedic.

For me, the morning of September 11, 2001 was actually the evening of September 10, finishing as I parked my car at home and headed inside to sleep after a long night shift as a paramedic on the streets of Poughkeepsie, NY. I could think of nothing I wanted to do more than just pass out and sleep until 2 p.m., then get up and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day.

After sleeping for about an hour, I heard loud knocking at my back door. Annoyed, I found my girlfriend trying to tell me some nonsense about the Trade Center getting blown up by terrorists. I dismissed it as a joke to wake me up and told her I was tired and asked her to let me sleep.

“I’m serious,” she said.

“I’m serious, too!” I exclaimed. “I’m exhausted.”

“Turn on the damn TV!”

I relented and that’s the last thing I remember of my life before that fateful morning – getting an ear full from my girlfriend.

For me and every other soldier, firefighter, paramedic, and cop in the US, the next three days were spent in a frenzy to try and do the only thing we knew how to do, and that was get our asses to work and somehow get to “the pile,” as the Trade Center site became known.

Sitting still was the enemy, and the only way to cope was to be moving in a direction, regardless which direction it was. There must be people alive, there HAS to be. Sadly there were not, despite the world’s most incredible efforts.

What I found instead, laying in the silence next to the grief, silence, confusion, tears, and American flags, was an intense energy and realization that I’d never experienced before. Questions materialized like, “How could we have let this happen?” “What am I doing do contribute to making this a stronger and safer country?” “Have we really gotten this complacent?” and “Why didn’t someone do something?”

I had a uniform on, but for some reason, it didn’t feel like enough. The restless energy continued to surge through my veins as we all talked about our friends and co-workers who died in the Towers.

And as the years passed, some of us DID do something because we had to. First deployments to war, lessons learned from great and horrible leaders alike, and events that made us question the very fiber that we are made of.

Pelak_Seabird

We leaned forward a bit, got out of our comfort zones, died, killed, changed, and realized the only way to make a difference is to take that step forward into the unknown. To stand up and say, “If not me, then who?”

That’s why Team Rubicon is so important to me. It allows me and my brothers and sisters to help keep this country safe through making communities stronger. To continue our service after these wars have come to a confusing end and not ever say something horrible happened due to a lack of someone doing SOMETHING.

Team Rubicon is here for all of us who never want to watch something like Hurricane Katrina on TV again, but instead be on the front lines with their hands raised saying “Pick me, I’ll go.”