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Team Rubicon is Changing The Way Our Country Perceives Veterans

Ken Harbaugh

Ken is a former Navy pilot and holds a JD from Yale Law School. He served as an Electronic Warfare Mission Commander and taught naval history at The Citadel. Following his Naval service, Ken co-founded The Mission Continues, a non-profit that empowers veterans to serve in their communities. He worked for two years with McKinsey and Co., and served as Executive Director of ServiceNation. Ken taught as a guest fellow at Yale, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Yale Journal of International Law, Canada’s National Post, Proceedings, and on NPR.

At Team Rubicon, disasters are our business. We’ve built our reputation around becoming the best disaster relief outfit in the world. And any greyshirt who has deployed on a relief operation knows how hard we are working to make this a reality.

But there’s another side of the Team Rubicon coin, and — if we’re being totally honest here — it’s what initially drew me in:

Team Rubicon is doing more than any other organization today to change the way that we, as a nation, perceive our veterans. Much has been written about what it takes to “reintegrate” a veteran. Even more effort has gone into assisting vets with the myriad challenges some face upon returning to civilian life. The most conservative tallies of Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) put the number north of 40,000. That’s a lot of help on offer.

While Team Rubicon is counted among those other orgs, we are different. Veterans who join our ranks know they will not be the object of our mission, but rather the agents of it. Every greyshirt joined the organization to serve others. Since Team Rubicon’s inception in 2010, we’ve responded to 103 disasters, deployed more than 3,500 members downrange, and logged over 250,000 volunteer hours in the field.

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Of course, being a part of TR Nation is about more than deploying. We train together, work out together, and drink together. Through these shared experiences, our members build a sense of purpose, community, and identity. But what truly sets us apart is our shared mission. We exist to serve others on the worst days of their lives.

Because of Team Rubicon, the time will come when it becomes second nature for communities across America to call upon veterans in times of crisis. We still have a long way to go. Too often, vets are viewed as damaged goods, as liabilities instead of assets (think of the “crazy vet” stereotype still trotted out on your television).

We have, however, made real progress. Over the course of 100+ operations, TR has forever changed the way those communities think about veterans. Where we used to have to ask permission to help, we are now requested.

Some might argue that this is happening because we’ve gotten good at disaster relief. That is absolutely true, but there is another reason communities are turning to us in times of need. They want Team Rubicon because of our veteran members, not in spite of them. We have proven, one op at a time, the tremendous social capital vets represent.

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A generation ago, being a military veteran was a wholly different experience. My father served multiple tours in Vietnam, and when he came home, the welcome he got was not the welcome he deserved. Indeed, the reception his entire generation received was a disgrace.

We’re doing better this time. Part of that is due to the efforts of outstanding VSOs working to help vets with serious reintegration challenges. But the biggest perception change, I believe, happens when vets return to the front lines responding to disasters in places like Faulkner County, AR, and Wimberley, TX.

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I have the honor of serving as the COO of the best disaster relief organization in operation today, but for real wisdom I have to draw from a deeper well. Jean Schoch, Vietnam vet and fellow greyshirt, wrote this upon demobing from Op: Rising Eagle:

“As a Vietnam veteran, working with Team Rubicon members of all ages has brought me full circle to the present. It makes me proud to have served in the Vietnam War and erased the need to keep that time in my life behind closed doors. As part of Operation: Rising Eagle, I have had time to share my reflections on life, living, and giving.”

And from Marine veteran Dale Camp:

“In less than a year, this organization has come to mean a great deal to me. For 46 years, I have been fighting and dealing with what invaded my brain while I was in Vietnam. Today, Team Rubicon is one of my strongest allies in this 46-year war.”

Well said Jean and Dale. We’ve come a long way since the days when vets had to keep their service “behind closed doors.” With your wisdom to guide us, we are learning. And with the dedication of TR nation, we will continue to prove, by our actions, that veterans can be a community’s greatest asset.

Learn more, join the team, and support the mission at teamrubiconusa.org

  • Bobby gray

    How is the pay with Team Rubicon?