After the Tornadoes, the Homeowner Who Changed Me

Troy Bollinger

A civilian learns the lesson of people having his six, and how having a homeowner’s six matters, too.

It’s the people that keep me coming out to deployments. The Greyshirts and the clients have added a dimension to my life that I’ve never had before.

As an introvert, I’ve always had anxiety about interacting with new people in new situations, but from the beginning, when I joined Team Rubicon two-and-a-half years ago, I found an organization built to lift people up and give volunteers an opportunity to make a better version of themselves.

Initially, all I wanted to do was run a chainsaw, and all my stories involved cutting. But the more I deployed, the more I realized it was the people, not the tools or gnarly storm damage that made me want to deploy again. The members of my strike teams, our instructors, Command and General staff, my local leaders, and of course the community members we serve: all of them were what made want to go sleep on a cot for a week or two. They also encouraged me to grow my skillsets and step into leadership in a million different ways.

I’ve had a lot of watershed moments in Team Rubicon, but the one that stays with me the most is my interaction with Diane, a homeowner in Dayton, OH, on Operation Flying Brothers, Team Rubicon’s response to tornadoes in 2019. Diane is a widow of a Korean War veteran. Team Rubicon came across her property while doing site surveys in the immediate aftermath of some devastating tornados. She had a significant number of oaks down, including one on her garage.

Strike Team Alpha had a lot of talent and relished the work ahead of us. Right off the bat we knew it wasn’t going to be just about the cutting. Diane needed help communicating with her insurance company, so Wendy “Swamp Mama” Jodice started snapping pics and talking to her agent. We realized there was some food insufficiency and started work on that, too. Our team wouldn’t have been there in the first place if it wasn’t for a personal connection: a Sawyer on the team, Dale “Mr. Moostache” Franks, had caught Diane’s eye with his handlebar moustache when he’d left crises cleanup literature during site survey.

Greyshirt Troy Bollinger with the homeowner who changed him in 2019.

When we started, I frankly wasn’t sure how much we could do with the storm damage but we cleared everything, including the tree on the garage. It was some significant technical cutting for the work order. I was pretty proud of what our team did. As the strike team leader, I stepped onto Diane’s back porch to wrap up what we had done. She looked at her newly-cleared property in disbelief and said “I didn’t think anybody cared.” That caught me off guard and it took me a minute to respond because I was choked up. When I composed myself, I was able to tell her that Team Rubicon cared. We gave her a signed cookie—a sliced section of one of the trees the sawyers had cleared—which she proudly displayed in her home.

That evening in our debrief, I choked my way through telling the story (with hugs from Swamp Mama). Being vulnerable in front of a group of people I barely knew is not something I’d done before. It broke me open. For a civilian, it was an important lesson in people “having my six”.

So that’s what keeps me coming back to deployments. The chance to use my hands, my head, and my heart alongside other people, to do good things.

  • Feature Story

    Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Essential to Disaster Resilience 

    To better serve the environment and community preparedness, connect the three Rs of waste management and environmentalism to response, recovery, and resilience.

  • Reflection

    A Better Tomorrow

    A volunteer responding to tornadoes in Ohio gets a glimpse at the hidden value of the work Greyshirts do.

  • Preparedness

    How to Prepare Your Pets for Disaster

    From leashes for Fido to carriers for Kitty, here are our top disaster preparedness for pets tips to add to your emergency planning now.

Read More Stories