Last month, I watched history happen. It started on a Monday morning in Texas when we turned up in a collection of black suits the likes of which I hadn’t seen or worn since leaving D.C. That Friday had been a flurry of final touches. I raised an eyebrow at Zach, shuffling tables and chairs. He caught me and called out, “I’m solving problems, Nicole.”
The World Health Organization was in town. I watched them watching us over my cup of coffee, leaning against my doorway while a table of voices clarified to a curious audience who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
I thought about Team Rubicon over the years, internationally. In 2010 and 2011 it was a captivating idea full of ad hoc moments. Clay calling on his way to Chile after the earthquake or asking if I would join a return trip to Haiti. Matt Pelak and Josh Webster working in Pakistan and Turkey. By 2012 it had crept into my life like Carl Sandburg’s fog on little cat feet. My guest room packed with T-shirts, people traveling to and from places.
That summer, I found myself burning PTO to sit in a small room in Inglewood working through how to vet qualified team members and dispatch them with the International Medical Corps in South Sudan. There was no air conditioning. If we plugged in too many laptops the electrical grid would blow. Months later when I formally quit my day job and moved to L.A., a large watermelon intended for a beach BBQ that we’d never found time for still sat in the conference room, decomposing.
Typhoon Haiyan brought our next big evolution. It drew in the most talented improvisers I’d met in some time, people with no formal background in what we were trying to do who did it fearlessly and without hesitation – jumping on flights to stand up a logistics team, meeting with foreign dignitaries, David dropping out of VISTA orientation to work around the clock to get things going. It occurred to me around 2 AM as we ended a meeting across time zones during which I found it normal that William was wandering past in boxer shorts and a jacket and I had begun sleeping on the floor of Jake’s office since it was kind of quiet there and he was running around Manila, that we were perhaps unique at times in our approach. We continued to learn as the organization grew and through work in Nepal and Greece.
I smiled as I heard Dr. Erin Noste briefing. She said, “Team Rubicon’s medical team will be carefully vetted – we aren’t looking for someone who had limited experience ten years ago and has not practiced since.” I remembered a team member who quit their day job and waited by the phone, convinced passion and a First Aid certification would result in a top-of-the-list call for the next flight to a med clinic. Our updated international recruiting pipeline set clear eligibility requirements up-front. Erin had patiently invested hundreds of hours to help us get to this point.
The next morning, I wandered through the warehouse as we prepared for a hands-on examination of our field station mockups. Sue popped up. Well? What do you think? “Looks great Sue,” I said. We had people in from all over the country. Several had played key roles in prior efforts and their confidence in where we had been and where we could go from here was contagious. I spied Mary across the room. “This is what I do, Nicole!” she yelled. I smiled again. Only Mary could pull off hours of logistics prep in black heels, a grey t-shirt and not a strand of hair out of place. Corey wandered past, brow furrowed. “Nicole, I should have put you in the formal agenda.” No, I thought, this is your moment. This moment belongs to Team Rubicon. I shadowed as this portion kicked off, listening to Fred and Seana calmly answer specific questions about water and power supply.
A few hours later, it was time for a formal announcement. It was official – Team Rubicon would become the 18th organization in the world and first NGO in North America verified as an Emergency Medical Team Type 1 Mobile. We heard, “This recognition is not only from us but also your peers – we know that you make decisions quickly, but you make them with enough information to be good decisions.”
I was unprepared for this to bring me close to tears. I wanted Mark Hayward to see it. A physician assistant and former Army medic who played a key role during the organization’s initial work in Haiti, he was my roommate during Clay’s funeral and a good friend although we were overdue for catching up on life. Ever considerate, Corey had called Jake to congratulate him on the full circle of what had happened in a span of eight years.
Later that afternoon, Dr. Dave Callaway bounced in. “Hey! You know, it hasn’t been too hard for me to get by in life and well, the point is I benefit from people who can challenge my thinking – so can we go talk about what happens now?” We grabbed several markers and spent the next hour with Dennis, brainstorming deeper integration and expansion of all things medical with the rest of our structure and process while I asked various questions and Dave irrepressibly informed me that he was in touch with his X chromosome.
As the day ended, the whole team sat down to talk about what went well and what to change and I smiled again as I watched newer faces lead old traditions.