My Team Rubicon experience began in February 2010. I met Jake and Clay in DC, when we were all participants in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s annual Storm the Hill advocacy campaign. It was Team Rubicon’s inaugural heyday, just after they’d come home from Haiti. I loved the story. I was smitten.
I left active duty in 2006 with many questions about the morality and psychology of war and my role in it. In search of answers, I completed a Masters degree in Diplomacy, with a focus on international conflict resolution. I wanted to understand why wars occur, and if it is possible to prevent them. I wanted to learn more about effective post-war reconstruction. I hung on every word of the commencement speech from our United Nations’ guest speaker, herself an Army veteran.
I wanted there to be a purpose I could associate with the past eight years of my life, years that carried into the present as I received calls from friends. “We are coming to town for a funeral at Arlington, can we stay with you?” “Nicole, I went to see my doctor and I discovered that as a result of my military service, I will never be able to have children.” “Nicole, I came home from my deployment and now I have breast cancer.” “Nicole, I miscarried last week. Do you think it’s related to the shots we took?” “Nicole, I was sexually assaulted on my deployment. Now I’m on three kinds of medication including an anti-depressant.” “Nicole, I don’t know how to talk to my wife about my nightmares.” “Nicole, I can’t fall asleep unless I drink 12 beers.”
Team Rubicon made immediate sense. I put friends – other veterans – on the phone with Clay to discuss joining. I spoke to my Dad’s Rotary Club about war, and highlighted Team Rubicon as an example of the type of service, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship veterans are capable of. I followed the blog avidly.
“Nicki”, Clay said, “you should really join.” He gave me one of his looks.
“Clay. I don’t have any medical skills. I don’t think my expired CPR is going to help you guys.”
I was standing outside a church in Houston, after Clay’s service, in the dress uniform I’d extracted from the depths of my closet. Matt Pelak walked over. “You know, Captain…you should really join Team Rubicon.” “I don’t have any medical expertise” I explained. He gave me a look. I know that look, I thought. Do they practice this? The TR recruiting, counter-all-counterarguments look? “You don’t need medical expertise. You have a level head and you’ve traveled a lot.” Fine, I thought, if you say so. I filled out my application and sent it in.
I got a call two days ago. Something like “We’re leaving for Tuscaloosa Saturday, are you in?” How could I not be.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, driving out here. We arrived late at night, the DC and New York caravan pulling in when everyone was asleep. Inside a hunting cabin. In one room full of bunkbeds. It was dark. Were all the bunkbeds full? I couldn’t tell. Were people sleeping with clothes on or were they naked? Wasn’t sure. Important if you’re stumbling around in search of an unoccupied spot. Last but not least, how much farting might occur in one room sleeping eight to ten men?
I decided sleeping on the couch just outside the bunkbed-room was a solid plan.
I have seen the aftermath of a tornado before, in 1998, when one passed through my hometown of Dunwoody, GA. I have never seen anything like Tuscaloosa. Today I learned about chainsaws and how to clear trees off of cars, yards, houses and driveways. I also found something I hadn’t realized was missing.
Working as a team again, with a clear purpose. A team in the way that any military veteran will understand. This vision of a team is closer and stronger than the concept of a team I’ve found in the business world. I missed this. I missed…not the chaos, necessarily, but the sense of accomplishment that comes with the resourcefulness you use to make sense of the chaos. I missed the stupid jokes. I missed being outside all day, no computer, doing something that had a tangible impact.
Tonight we sat around a campfire in front of the cabin. After a hello and a welcome, things kicked off with an after action review. A concept I have tried to introduce at work for the past year. I missed this, too. During an after action review, everyone examines the day to identify what went well, and what could be improved. This search for lessons learned is taken for granted because the lessons can be so important. No one gets defensive. The point is to improve how effectively the team functions.
It was here that we heard bin Laden had been killed. A car drove up to the cabin to tell us. I can’t think of a more fitting group with whom to receive the news, and reflect on what this past decade has meant to all of us. It’s good to be reunited in a different context, with a new focus.
Clay and I talked a lot about how therapeutic he found it to use his military skills in a way that helped others. In one of our first war-talks, he was happy that I did not think he was a monster because he’d served as a sniper. It cut me, knowing he’d harbored that fear.
I knew how much Team Rubicon meant to him. I underestimated how much it would mean to me. The healing associated with doing something constructive. The opportunity for redefinition, for shifting your self-identity. Take that, tornado…I’ll see your destruction and raise you one roomful of hope in a city that is going to rebuild.