I like to tell people that I enlisted in the military because I made the dangerous error of reading Starship Troopers and Fight Club back-to-back. Together the books made a compelling case – Fight Club argued the need to induce radical change as a means of compelling personal growth and Starship Troopers showed the benefits of devoting yourself to a greater cause.
When I was in basic training, the U.S.S. Cole was attacked and our drill sergeants ordained it a terrible omen. “War is coming, privates.” Maybe they’d been saying that to every class for the last ten years, I don’t know, but this time they were right. A year later, I was in the barracks at Ft. Bragg watching the planes hit the Towers live on CNN. We all knew what that meant. Everything changed – though not right away.
We finally got our chance in 2003 as part of OEF III. We landed in Afghanistan in January, while the world’s attention was increasingly focused on Iraq and WMDs. It put a chip on our shoulders; everyone being focused on the war that wasn’t happening in Iraq while we chased the Taliban around Afghanistan. We came home from Afghanistan eight months after we left, only to immediately start prepping for a rotation into Iraq. A few months later, we rotated home, and I decided to try out the education benefits I’d heard so much about.
I was a civilian again, and for the longest time, I purposefully steered clear of veterans’ groups. I was trying to get as far away from the military and military life as I could. I went to school and I worked and was a loner. I see now what a mistake that was. It really took me reaching a dark place personally to turn the corner on that attitude. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that joining Team Rubicon saved my life.
I don’t define myself solely as a veteran, and I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life talking about some stuff I did when I was 20. But being a veteran is part of my identity and those experiences helped shape me. Being a part of the veterans’ community is meaningful chance to help others through the transition from service member to civilian.
A big part of the drive for many people to put on a uniform and join the military is the desire to serve others, and once you take off the uniform and go home, that drive to serve remains. Finding the right place to channel that can be difficult, however, and the sense of isolation that afflicts our transitioning service members can have tragic results. Team Rubicon is the opportunity for me to give back and be a part of a great community. I hope every veteran can find something as fulfilling.
Team Rubicon takes the skills and experiences from the military and channels them into helping people after a natural disaster. It’s difficult, dirty, and soul-cleansing. It has reconnected me with the things I really missed from the military – camaraderie, satisfaction of service, and the joy of hard work. It has also taught me new skills, like how to wield a chainsaw. I encourage veterans to get out of their shells and get involved wherever they can; we bring a unique perspective and skill set to the problems we’re facing as a society right now and we can have an impact. Team Rubicon has shown me that path.
Many Americans may not have a grasp on why we’re fighting, how we’re fighting, or what the experiences are of our men and women in combat, which is why a series like Chain of Command is important. And I think even many service members struggle to gain a larger perspective; when you’re overseas you really only see your own tiny piece of the war. Part of this is cultural discomfort, part of this is the reticence of service members to talk, and part of this is just exhaustion with a problem that seems to have no simple solution. But it’s an important dialogue to have. Aside from the professional class of senior military leaders, there haven’t been many willing to make the case for why our presence is important or what we’re hoping to accomplish in the Global War on Terror. We dedicate billions of dollars and precious lives to these conflicts. People should understand why. Chain of Command is a key part of that dialogue.
Watch the new eight-part docuseries Chain of Command on Mondays at 9/8c, only on National Geographic. Learn more here.