A Veteran Uses Lessons from Afghanistan to Lend a Hand in Wisconsin
After a tour in Logar Province liaising between Special Forces and local citizens, one Greyshirt is giving back to Afghans on U.S. soil.
I retired from the Navy in 2017 and, in keeping with one of my personal philosophies to help people, started my second career in the medical device field. Around that time I also came across an article on Jake Wood and was intrigued by the nonprofit he started that had mostly veteran volunteers. For the last few years, I had looked at joining the Team Rubicon team but the opportunities just hadn’t fit.
Then, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban and our country had to step up in a new way.
I had spent my second-to-last tour in the Navy as an Afghanistan-Pakistan Hand. AfPak Hands are members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are trained as experts in Afghan and Pakistani cultures, history, politics, language and sometimes even financial management processes and systems. I served 12 months in Afghanistan liaising between the U.S. Army Special Forces Battalion in Regional Command East, along with three of its respective A-Teams. I interfaced with Afghans on a daily basis, working with everyone from the Provincial Governor to villagers looking to make their communities safer. Through it all, I gained a great respect for the Afghans and their culture.
Fast forward to this past August: Afghans were looking to flee their own country as the Taliban took over the government and I was searching for an opportunity to help.
Many of the Afghan refugees—as on November 6, there were still about 10,400 of them—are being temporarily housed at Fort McCoy, WI, which happens to be about a 10-minute drive from the house I grew up in. Additionally, the National Guard Armory, where donations are initially sorted prior to going to Fort McCoy, is two blocks from my parents’ house in Sparta. The timing and opportunity could not have been better: I went to the Team Rubicon website, applied, provided info for my background investigation, and two days later I was deployable.
I was fortunate enough to be selected to volunteer in Sparta in late September and spent five days sorting, boxing, and delivering donations to the warehouses at Fort McCoy. The ability to help Afghans could not have been more gratifying. I was also afforded the opportunity to meet other Team Rubicon volunteers who are absolutely great people. What an experience and I’m truly grateful I got the opportunity.
Eight days after completing my deployment to Fort McCoy, Team Rubicon and the Minnesota Twins partnered for a clothing drive for the Afghans. (It will get pretty cold in Wisconsin in the coming months, and the Afghans who came with minimal clothing need some help). I live about half an hour east of Minneapolis, so I took advantage of yet another great opportunity. The community supported impressively, including one Afghan-American family who brought in two trailers full of donations they’d been collecting since mid-August. It was great to volunteer yet again with such great people and see the wonderful support of the local community.
In my brief deployments, one aspect of the Team Rubicon leaders I took away is the consistent emphasis on the cultural principles. The two that stood out to me the most are “Step into the Arena” and “Get Shit Done.” The entire Team Rubicon organization, from the CEO, Art delaCruz—who volunteered the entire day in Minneapolis—to the volunteers, have given at least a portion of their lives to service, and that is done through stepping into the arena and giving precious time to make the community better. Stepping into the arena is only step one though: once in the arena, it’s time to GSD and do anything from hauling heavy boxes to being interviewed by the media.
I am proud to have served as a small part of the Team, and once the Rubicon is crossed, it is truly time to Get Shit Done.