Greyshirt Victor Matthias deployed to Laplace, LA, in 2021 for Operation Won’t Bow Down, Team Rubicon’s response to Hurricane Ida. Here, he reflects on his first-ever hurricane deployment.
What’s a hurricane response like?
It’s the excitement of meeting fellow greyshirts at your airport gate. It’s the weird feeling of having a woman holding back tears walk up to your team to thank you, telling you she knows where you’re heading to, which is her community. It’s circling for landing and seeing, as far as the eye can see, blue tarps covering the roofs of houses that were damaged and flooded.
It’s landing and being blasted by the heat and humidity and knowing there are people living in it without electricity or running water. It’s checking into the forward operating base and being pleasantly surprised that there is electricity and running water, unlike most places.
It’s having an alligator warning in your safety brief. It’s going out with your team in a convoy of trucks to assess the damage, silent and in shock. It’s the confusion of the randomness of how certain things were blown to where they are, and wondering how the roof of a gas station ended up in the Louisiana bayou.
It’s the look of despair of people as you drive by. It’s meeting homeowners who don’t know where to begin. It’s appreciative homeowners who make and deliver meals to your team. It’s trying to figure out what help and resources are needed for one house while half a dozen other people want, and need, their houses checked, too.
It’s collapsed trees everywhere. It’s watching for downed power lines. It’s getting scrapes, bruises, and blisters, and not remembering how you got them. It’s poison ivy, fire ants, mosquitos, and bugs the size of birds. It’s finding stray dogs and puppies hiding underneath abandoned houses. It’s the smell of decay and whiff of rotten food, broken up by a fresh breeze off the Mississippi.
It’s working hard with your team cutting down trees, clearing debris, mucking out flooded homes, consoling homeowners, and getting them the resources they need.
It’s riding back to base in a convoy of trucks listening to country music and laughing about the absurdity of life. It’s decontaminating all your gear once you’re back at base and preparing for the next day. It’s enjoying a lukewarm meal in styrofoam dishes like it’s the best meal in the entire world.
It’s enjoying a couple of beers with your team while playing cornhole in a parking lot in the Louisiana sunset. It’s hitting your cot early because you’re so tired and need to wake up at 6 the next morning to do it all over again.
It’s saying goodbye, hugs, and handshakes. It’s getting everyone’s contact information for the next operation and to stay in touch. It’s flying home realizing that while there’s still a lot of work to be done, your team has made an impact.