Operation Loggerhead was life-changing for me. This was my first opportunity to deploy with Team Rubicon, and I really didn’t know what to expect. What I did know was how powerful Hurricane Matthew was. I lived it, every moment, with the residents of Flagler County. You see, I was at home with my five and 12-year-old boys while my husband, a police sergeant for Daytona Beach, was serving our community. I was at home praying the sounds I was hearing weren’t actually our roof being ripped off our home, and watching the water levels and wind tear apart our fence piece by piece.
After the storm initially passed, that first look outside at my own community was one of destruction. We were lucky and only lost our fence. I spent the first few days after the storm at my sister’s house helping her remove a massive tree that went through her roof as well as a couple of other huge trees that completely blocked her street. At the same time, I was mitigating the emotional damage to my children and waiting for the power to come on four days later. It was on my first day back to work when Team Rubicon posted the opportunity to serve.
I didn’t hesitate for a second because I knew my own experience could help someone else, and I wanted to make a difference. Immediately upon arrival, I felt like I had come home to family. TR welcomed me like no other organization I have ever been a part of. I felt like I had a purpose and the mission was on.
The first homeowner I encountered had a profound effect on me. There were so many parts of myself in his face, and yet, I could never understand the amount of loss he experienced. Bob lost more in one day than many lose in a lifetime. The 17ft wave that crashed through his home and the three feet of standing water was devastating.
When the assessment team I was on found Bob, he was living at a neighbor’s trailer and could barely speak. He told us he had no insurance, no savings, had fallen and hurt himself pretty badly, and was living on a fixed income. At 80 years old, he was completely overwhelmed by the storm. At one point, I had to stop talking to collect my emotions in order to talk without breaking down. We determined Team Rubicon would be able to help him out, and a work order was created.
The next three and a half days were spent ripping out 90% of his drywall, his entire kitchen, and gutting both of his bathrooms. It was hot, dirty, smelly, nasty and the most rewarding work I have ever done. To watch Bob’s face change from that first moment we met him to the day we finished up was a priceless payment. He started to crack jokes and smile, and I thought the sun had finally come out for him. When we were done, he said, “I just don’t know where to start now”. I told him to take it one room at a time, and I think he found some comfort in that. I know I will never forget Bob. What’s crazy is that he was only the first homeowner I encountered.
There were so many more faces and stories, and every single one of them went from beaten and battered and overwhelmed to hopeful and recovering. From the highly skeptical that we would actually do this much work for free to the desperate for any help at all that we could give, I won’t ever forget any of them.
The people I helped were only part of the story. Team Rubicon helped me at the same time. I didn’t come to Team Rubicon as a veteran. I came as a civilian. I didn’t know how accepted I would be, and I didn’t know if I would feel awkward or out of place. None of that happened. I was treated just like every other person, veteran or not, with care and compassion. I found lifelong friendships and immediately just “clicked” with my teammates. When TR talks about being a family, it isn’t just a cute little slogan; they really do mean it.
I was also able to challenge my own leadership and team-building skills. I became a Strike Team leader during the operation, and while I didn’t feel super confident when I started the day, I definitely gained that confidence throughout the rest of my time as a leader.
When I arrived for Operation Loggerhead, I was still reeling from the storm damage myself and was very nervous but excited to help other people. When I left, I felt like I had healed and I had absolutely made a huge impact on the community in which we worked. Leaving the operation was difficult. I felt like I was saying “see you later” to family members. I really can’t wait to do another operation.
I treasure the stories shared with me, and I am honored and humbled to have served alongside the most amazing heroes I have ever met. Thank you just doesn’t seem to be enough, but it’s all I have. Team Rubicon has forever changed my life.