As I packed for my flight to Houston to help with recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey it occurred to me: I’m going to be deployed with Team Rubicon on September 11th again this year. It seems fitting. September 11th, and the decisions I made afterwards, is the reason I’m part of Team Rubicon at all.
I left college a semester early and reenlisted in the Marine Corps on September 14, 2001. We’d just been attacked and, like so many others, I was eager to be part of the response. Taking the oath that day in Virginia, just a few miles south of the Pentagon, was different than the first time I’d raised my right hand and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.
For the first time in my memory, the enemy was tangible. Looking back, I realize that wasn’t the biggest difference as I took the oath that day. When I enlisted the first time, it wasn’t for God, Corps and Country—I enlisted because a juvenile court judge suggested it was the best course of action to reset my azimuth. I didn’t know what that meant but, at 16, I was smart enough to know agreeing to go to boot camp when I graduated high school was better than any of the alternatives on the table.
My first tour in the Corps changed the course of my life, but I was still young and still angry when I left active duty and started college at 21. I grew up some, leveled out, learned a lot and even taught school. By the time those planes were hijacked in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, I had a different perspective on life. I wanted to serve—and I did, for five more years.
When I left active duty again in 2006 because of a back injury, I was torn—all of my friends were still in, still deploying and many of them were coming home injured or, worse, draped in a flag. I wasn’t ready to just go away. I looked for ways to stay in the fight—I spent time as a Department of the Navy civilian, went downrange to Afghanistan as a contractor because the role gave me a chance to support my friends’ missions even without a uniform on.
The longer I was out, the more I compared my jobs to the service of others, and I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I felt like I wasn’t veteran enough to even be considered a veteran.
Last August, struggling with the idea of “veteran enough” and grieving the loss of my fiancé to suicide, I remembered our conversations about what we’d do when he retired from the Corps. He was going to join Team Rubicon and “go around the world kicking disaster’s ass” with his brothers from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, and I was going to have an organic farm.
Missing him fiercely, desperately alone and yearning for a piece of the life we’d planned, I googled Team Rubicon, watched the video and signed up, doubtful I’d qualify.
A few weeks later, I’d a done a local service project and received orders to I deploy to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for Operation Geaux Big. It was there, hot, filthy, head to toe in TYVEK for a week, I found a place to continue to serve—a place where I am veteran enough. We paused operations to commemorate September 11th on our forward operating base in a Home Depot parking lot and, surrounded by firefighters, cops, veterans, and people from every walk of life, I felt like I was finally home.
Last year I wrote about Team Rubicon on the flight back from an operation; this year I’m writing about it on the flight to an operation. Sixteen years after choosing to serve, I’m and humbled and proud to be part of an organization that exists solely so men and women have the chance to continue to do just that. Service with a purpose changed my life.