Finding Another Chance to Serve in America

Jonah Thompson

Maria Jordan "MJ" Torrealba immigrated from Venezuela in 2000, served in the U.S. Air Force, and now finds a renewed sense of purpose by leading with Team Rubicon.

Maria Jordan “MJ” Torrealba immigrated from Venezuela in 2000, served in the U.S. Air Force, and now finds a renewed sense of purpose by leading with Team Rubicon.

I always knew what I wanted to be in life. What I didn’t know was that I would have a chance to be everything I dreamed of as a child.

I came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Venezuela, and yes, I’m still learning the English language. But like most Americans, I am going to school and working a full-time job, but I feel like I have fought and worked harder than most to get where I wanted to be. I’ve experienced public discrimination and encountered some employers who would not consider me for a position because of my thick accent, even though I have a Master’s degree and also speak five languages.

I grew up watching the TV show JAG and that is what I wanted to be – a J.A.G. (a Judge Advocate General or a military officer who advises the government on courts-martial). That was my dream. Unfortunately, my wings got cut off before I could even continue to reach my dream. I received an incorrect military discharge order DD214 that I am still fighting to correct. I felt like I lost my way, like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt there was nothing else for me because my only dream of serving was gone.

One day, while sitting in the break room of the Department of Homeland Security, I saw Team Rubicon (TR) CEO Jake Wood giving an interview on CNN about the incredible work other veterans were doing in their local communities since the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and I saw a new door and maybe a new dream for me. I went home, logged onto my computer, and signed up to be a volunteer member for TR but to my eagerness, I could not participate. Nothing was going on in Omaha.

Torrealba serves as the volunteer City Administrator for Team Rubicon in Omaha, where she recruits members and identifies opportunities to engage fellow Greyshirts.

A year after of signing up for TR, I had a beautiful baby girl who is everything to me but still, the emptiness was there. I always felt that if I cannot serve my country, then I will help others who stand up to serve as well. That is why I am so involved in the veteran community. Here I was, working full time, an active member of Team RWB, a CrossFit competitor, working on my Master’s and now raising a child on my own in a state where I knew no one.

In July 2016, I received an email from one of the TR membership team leads in Region VII asking for volunteers to step up to a leadership position. I thought to myself, “This is my chance!” I know very little about this organization but why not? I came to this country and learned its language, started adjusting to a new life and even raised my hand and promised to protect this country, so I got this.

Volunteer leader Amanda Stricker gave me my first shot and now here I am. Doing the best I can to live up to the TR standard and to give it all I can for the people that volunteer with us and for those who lost it all from a natural disaster. I know what it’s like losing a dream. I know what it’s like to start over, and that’s why I work hard to make my city strong.

Torrealba admires the can-do attitude of her teammates and the strong sense of community formed through disaster response.

I feel I have a purpose again, just like I did when I was in the military; I have a family away from my original family. Everywhere I go I feel like I’m at home, there is always a Greyshirt volunteer waiting to hug another. That it is why I joined Team Rubicon, to find my purpose, my drive, and my home away from home. Now I have a big, kick-ass family full of veterans as well as some amazing civilians who give it their all and then some.

God knows how proud I am and what an honor it is for me is to put my name on that grey shirt even though it does not fit!

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