Serving Gold Star Parents in Cedar Falls

Patrick O'Neill

Coming from Tinley Park, IL—South Chicago but the suburbs—and enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17. Served as a Reconnaissance team member of 2D Recon BN, A CO on two deployments to Afghanistan. He's a creative student at the University of Southern California studying English/ Creative Writing and Advertising. Currently an intern with the awesome Team Rubicon Comms Team. Chances of bumping into Pat at an LA Brewery are high.

14689929_10207328431870026_1977434523_oOn a late September Friday night in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Kandie Vaughn and her family watched as water slowly flooded the street, spreading across the neighbors’ yards and eventually their own the day before their son was getting married. They had prepared the house the best they could, even ripping up carpeting in some of the first floor rooms, Kandie Vaughn said.

“I felt like we were abandoning our home, so we waited, not wanting to leave until around 7:45 p.m. on Friday night when we saw the water,” she said. They’ve lived in their home for three years so they hadn’t experienced the 2008 flooding; however, neighbors who had warned them to evacuate.

Brad and Kandie Vaughn are Gold Star Parents who have two sons: Lukus, age 12 who helped the family ready the house for the flood, and Jason, who was married the Saturday after they evacuated. Their oldest son Travis was tragically killed in Afghanistan in 2007. Travis was a member of the elite 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment)—The Night Stalkers—serving as a Crew Chief aboard a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter when it suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure and crashed in the desert.

They had been planning a shrimp boil at the house with family and friends for Jason’s wedding rehearsal dinner, but the flood interfered. The local Cedar Falls Family Restaurant—on higher ground, she said—offered to host the dinner for free, fitting of a Cedar Falls community looking out and supporting each other in hard times. As the water came up the street towards the house, Kandie described it as “slow and peaceful but also terrifying.” There was little to nothing they could do.

The next day, Brad, Lukus and a few other neighbors took a “Jon Boat” and kayaks through the flooded streets to inspect their homes. “It was something to remember,” Kandie said. The Vaughn’s basement was underwater and there were also eight inches of stagnate water on the first floor. Mold was the biggest concern, waiting for the water to subside, Kandie said.

Team Rubicon incident commander and Marine veteran Chris Wells and members of his team including, Cheryl, Tim “Guns,” Jill, Steve, and Jeremy responded to the Vaughns’ home, introduced by a member of the Cedar Falls City Council.

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The team immediately went to work on the basement, which required a significant amount of muck-out ops—typical of any flood response. The sump pump, as to be expected, was completely backed up with muck and inoperable. TR members cleared it all, pumping out water, scrubbing, tearing off damaged sheetrock and topping it all off with some good ole power washing. “Everything looks golden down there now—Team Rubicon really stepped up and kicked-ass,” added Kandie.

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In conversation with Chris, Kandie expressed her gratitude for TR and their willingness to come home from “one war zone to another,” referring to disaster situations, but Chris responded with the contrasting difference: “Ma’am, instead of fighting, we’re helping and healing.”

Helping families and supporting veterans organizations is nothing new to Kandie and Brad Vaughn, who recently built a wheelchair ramp for a family in Minneapolis whose son was paralyzed after being struck by shrapnel on deployment overseas. Now, the Vaughns were the ones needing a helping-hand. “It was humbling to say ‘I need help,’ and having Team Rubicon here was like having Travis’ hands and feet by our sides, home, times ten,” Kandie said.

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Retrieving Freedom is another local veterans organization the Vaughns and their community are passionate about. Team Rubicon had the chance to meet with Retrieving Freedom members and many of their service dogs in training, which is the group’s mission to provide service dogs for returning veterans as well as children with disabilities.

“Perhaps we’ll see TR service dogs alongside Greyshirts on future ops, interacting with families and especially kids in the wake of a disaster,” Kandie suggested.


Watch Team Rubicon in action on Operation Pioneer Greys in Cedar Falls, Iowa, courtesy of KWWL-TV.