History and Culture

Gruff and Grizzled Greyshirts Gripe at Grinding from Home

Formerly at-risk volunteers return to active duty after getting needled by colleagues.

“Frak that,” says Sergeant Mike Murphy, USMC retired, “I’m not making bows for baskets.” 

Giving a big middle-finger to the interviewer, Murphy continues. “I was smashing out walls with a sledge a year ago, cutting-up downed trees and dragging 3-foot diameter trunks to the curb. Getting sidelined by these young jerks is unacceptable.”

Thick biceps colored by tattoo ink, Murphy, 68, served 30 years as a Marine before retiring into service as a Greyshirt for Team Rubicon. He thumps the table emphatically while talking about his 35 missions with the disaster relief organization.

“Look, no virus is going to take me down,” he says, pointing to himself. “I wore my mask. I stayed socially distant, but I got my two Modernas and I’m ready to go tarp roofs!”

Tilley Burnham, a semi-retired firefighter in Chicago, pulls a hose onto her broad shoulders while talking about her volunteer experience with Team Rubicon. 

“I like mucking out houses,” she says, tossing the hose to two nearby firefighters. They catch it, but promptly fall backward from the weight. “It’s a lot like when I was on the fireteam here at this station. The difference is, at 66 years old, I can still climb 40 flights of stairs in a high-rise building, with full gear and not break a sweat.”

Turning to the firefighters who are still extricating themselves from the firehose, she shakes her head. “Do you boys need some help? I just rolled that hose up.”

Both Murphy and Burnham are Greyshirts with Team Rubicon. In 2020 both, because of restrictions based on their age, had been sidelined from active deployments because of advice from the CDC regarding at-risk employees and people.

With vaccination supply on the rise, and when the qualifications allowed, the Greyshirts found themselves at vaccination operations staffed by Team Rubicon volunteers. 

In New Mexico, Dr. Manny Sticklestein daubed alcohol on Burnham’s shoulder. “These operations are an essential public health activity for New Mexico at large. I’m proud that I could take time away from my practice as a brain surgeon and help vaccinate our citizens,” he says, bringing a vaccine syringe up to Tilley’s arm. 

“Normally I let the nurses give shots but it’s always good to get your hands in it when you can. It sure beats using microrobots to remove tumors.”

As the needle bends in half on Burnham’s shoulder, Dr. Sticklestein looks surprised. “I’ve never had that happen before. Must be a defective needle.” When he tries a fresh syringe, that needle breaks off.

Tilley Burnham snickers as Sticklestein gets a large bore, titanium needle from the supply team. Turning to this reporter, she stage-whispers, “It’s not like it’s brain surgery. I would tell him to stick it in my ass, but even that needle can’t break through. ”

Murphy was also literally needled by a colleague when retired Army medic and long-time Team Rubicon volunteer, Ruben “Slappy” Tarpo delivered the COVID-19 vaccine to the Marine at a vaccination operation in Albany, Georgia. The shot went directly into Murphy’s “Death Before Dishonor” tattoo. Standersby witnessed a whimper from Murphy, but quickly looked the other way. 

Murphy glared at Tarpo, his eyes wet, and said loudly, “I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying.”

From the 15-minute wait area Murphy reflect on how glad he was to have the vaccination done, and to be eligible to deploy again. “Getting deployed again is the best thing ever. I miss my buddies and I can’t wait to give Burke grief about his hair.” 

He brushes his perfect flattop and continues, “No way that hippy would make it in MY Corps.”

Both Burnham (who, in the end, needed a 7-gauge needle for her successful vaccination) and Murphy were elated to hear that Team Rubicon was finally re-drafting its rules for senior vaccinated Greyshirts.

After a second vaccination for both Greyshirts, both deployed to critical operations. Murphy was last seen in Kentucky, helping flood victims who had severe water damage in their homes. Burham deployed to a swampy area near Houston, where she single-handedly hauled all of the operation’s supplies through a bog to the forward operating area.

“It’s great to be out here again,” she said, pulling a cow out of a mudhole, “I love serving and this is like a vacation for me.”

Editor’s note: If you or a Greyshirt you know is feeling left behind, please follow the advice of the Greyshirts profiled in this April Fool’s Day story: get vaccinated and then find a way to GSD. No Greyshirts were injured in the making of this story.