Gratitude, Pride, and a Newfound Love of Sawdust

Thomas Brown

On their first deployment, a newly-minted EMT and Greyshirt discovers unexpected allies and surprising talents.

The first thing Logan Breunig did when they earned their EMT certification in 2022 was to sign up to become a disaster relief volunteer. The second thing they did was pack their bags and head to Florida. 

Hurricane Ian had just pummeled the Sunshine State, and seasoned Team Rubicon volunteers—or Greyshirts—were deploying there from across the U.S. in response. Breunig, however, was not a seasoned Greyshirt: Team Rubicon’s Hurricane Ian response would be their first-ever operation with the veteran-led disaster relief nonprofit. 

It would also be their second and third: Breunig was so affected by their experience—by the devastation they witnessed, the resilience and grace of the survivors, and by the other Greyshirts they worked with—that just 10 days after serving on Operation Sunshine Strong in Desoto County they deployed to Lee County. Then two weeks after demobilizing that operation, they returned. In all, Breunig would spend more than three weeks serving in Florida. They would also go home to Delaware a changed person.

“It altered the course of my life,” Breunig explains, “I learned that I love being part of a community.” 

A veteran-led community could seem intimidating for an autistic, bisexual, and non-binary young civilian, but Breunig instead found it to be inclusive and embracing of them.

“As a Greyshirt, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your past is, who you are as a person, everyone just sets that aside, and we’re all just bonding based on our mutual love of helping others,” says Breunig.

Breunig even worried, at first, that their service would be challenged by encounters with people who don’t understand or condone their identity. America is filled with lawn signs and bumper stickers proclaiming all manner of beliefs, often ones antagonistic to people like Breunig. “I was worried I would have my own bias or an attitude, but you’re surrounded by strangers helping strangers. Nobody cares,” reflects Breunig. “And I know how isolating it can feel when something terrible happens to you. To be able to extend kindness to them, to let them know that they’re not alone…I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t choose to help if they have the chance.”

Breunig hadn’t come to their first operation completely ignorant of what to expect in the field: their stepdad is a Greyshirt and had filled in a few of the blanks before they deployed, but there was still much to learn. From the TR culture to safety to sawing, Breunig immersed themself in the mission and came away with a deeper appreciation of service, a new skill set as a certified sawyer—at 21, now one of the youngest Greyshirts ever to wield a chainsaw. They even have a new boyfriend: The two met in sawyer training. 

They also got many chances to help people in Florida. And in the course of helping learned a lot about themself. First among the lessons was that they love sawing. 

“You can duct tape chainsaws to my hand, and I’d be very happy,” they say. 

During their multiple operations, Breunig also discovered that growing up with a deep relationship with nature translated very well into disaster response work; that the many camping trips their single mother took them on as a kid left them ready to serve when nature turns on human communities. 

A Greyshirt saw team in Florida. Logan Breunig is on the right.

The structure and routine of a Team Rubicon deployment was also surprisingly appealing to Breunig. The regimented daily battle rhythm of a veteran-led operation was an environment in which Breunig thrived, their spirits buoyed by regular expectations of the day that were always met. The Greyshirts Breunig served with, and the storm survivors they served, also provided a safe space for Breunig to grow—and to help others grow.

“I had so many beautiful, beautiful conversations.” There were misunderstandings aplenty, on and off the FOB, but all centered on getting to a place of understanding. “There were lots of campfire conversations. At work sites, with my bunkmates, we had conversations.” Breunig is especially grateful for a long discussion they had with a fellow Greyshirt, a mother struggling to understand her own nonbinary child. 

“You know, my mom has a hard time understanding, too,” says Breunig. “So, I got to learn her perspective through this other mother. She understood her child better, I understood my mother better, and we understood each other better. That understanding and connection is another reason why I fell so in love with Team Rubicon,” muses Breunig. “The more you talk to people, the more you realize that everyone is just a struggling human trying to figure out this crazy world.”

Serving in Florida changed the Breunig in another way: “In a chaotic world of climate change and COVID and everything, being out there helping people in an organized way gives me some control back.” So much so that they are considering joining the United States Navy and bringing their EMT skills to a whole new level of service as a corpsman. The now-experienced Greyshirt is even interested in deploying internationally with Team Rubicon, employing their medical skills and training to serve vulnerable communities overseas. 

“I feel like my purpose on this Earth is to help people, and Team Rubicon brings that out of everyone.”

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