For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to natural disasters. Whenever one occurred, I would watch them unfold on the television, with sadness and fascination, of how so many lives could be randomly turned upside down in the blink of an eye. I felt compelled to be there, doing anything to help. When I heard about Team Rubicon (TR) and realized all I had to do to become involved was complete two short, online training modules and a background check, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. Once that was done, I anxiously waited for the next disaster to occur, no matter how odd that made me feel.
Before I knew it, I was in Tippah County, Mississippi, happily donning my grey shirt, (confirmation I was officially part of the Team), and eagerly “getting shit done” on Operation Skipping Christmas. After my first day in the field, everyone on the op gathered for our daily debrief where he Incident Commander asked each of us to share an awesome moment from that day. In listening to everyone’s awesome moments, I realized TR was much more than a disaster response organization. Some Greyshirts had awesome moments that made tears well up in my eyes because they were stories about the strength of the human spirit and the amazing things that happen when people reach out and care for each other. Other awesome moments made me teary-eyed because they were downright funny.
The first awesome moment I had was while conducting damage assessments. Our team visited a family whose mobile home was clearly damaged and we wanted to offer our assistance. Several men were outside busily making repairs and tackling the mess. The owner assured us he and his family could handle on their own but asked us to “go on down the road,” and check on a few other houses he heard that were worse off than his. As we walked away he yelled, “Santa gave me quite a surprise this year. He gave me a tornado for Christmas! I never had one of them before!” There he was, on possibly the worst day of his life, taking it all in stride, and even more, laughing at it.
I remember another awesome moment on my first op while doing a demolition of a totally destroyed mobile home. Bit by bit, we moved the home into separate piles…plastics in one area, cinder blocks in another, and so on. The personal effects we could recover were placed in an area separate from everything else. While recovering and separating, I found an old polaroid photo of a dog. Since the owner always had his dog, Bruno, by his side, I decided to give him the photo personally. As he looked at it, he wiped his eyes and his voice grew shaky. “He died years ago, but I buried him over there,” he said, pointing to an area covered by the debris of what once was his home. I tried to focus his attention away from his pain and reminded him he had a great dog at his side now, I’d be a liar if I said my eyes didn’t water up and my voice didn’t get shaky along with him.
Since Operation Skipping Christmas, I have been on several ops with Team Rubicon and have added to my collection of awesome moments. These moments have become key in helping me transition to “normal” life after a 20-year career in federal law enforcement. In those 20 years, I have seen and experienced some awful things, and those experiences have made me cynical and suspicious of just about everyone and everything. But as my collection of awesome moments continue to grow, they will serve as reminders to me that no matter how badly I think of the world, good still prevails over evil; that laughter is a mechanism to overcome, and crying with a complete stranger is completely okay.