Operation River Rain was my first real op with Team Rubicon. I had volunteered with Team Rubicon at the height of the pandemic—at a food bank and at a Verily testing site—but didn’t find it fulfilling, which originally turned me away from further missions.
When the operation to deploy to Ventura, CA, with Team Rubicon in response to the atmospheric river there in December and January came up in my inbox, though, I jumped. It was exactly the kind of operation I had originally signed up to do.
From the moment I stepped foot into the team, it felt different. Every volunteer—or Greyshirt, in Team Rubicon lingo—I met was extremely welcoming. The staff was incredibly organized, and there was a lot of work to be done. Within the first 24 hours, I was taught all about the Team Rubicon culture and shown it through the actions of the leadership. During a conversation with the operation’s Incident Commander, the “eight hours bottle-to-throttle” policy was explained to me: Greyshirts were to refrain from alcohol, medication, or other substances that could affect their ability to operate machinery within eight hours of work hours. As a United States Marine Corps helicopter door gunner, the concept was all-too-familiar. Finally, I jokingly said to the IC, “What Marine started this group?” She responded with, “Jake Wood.”
After the first day on the operation, I was impressed with the organization, level of leadership, and, more importantly, how it felt to be surrounded by so many other veterans like myself—31 of the 59 Greyshirts on the operation were veterans, which fostered an environment very similar to my Marine Corps family. Finally, I had found my people.
The next several days went by too quickly. I went from learning the ropes to being a Strike Team Leader and signing up for a sawyer class—all while planning my immediate return to Team Rubicon.
Quite often in my everyday life, I’m told “Wow, you’re such a badass” because of the things I’ve accomplished. I’ve been a Marine, a bodybuilding champion, a CEO, and a campaign manager for politicians. And while I have been blessed with incredible mentors who helped me with all of those, none of them are women. But here, at a veteran-led disaster response nonprofit, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by incredible, strong, badass women who were just like me! A full 25% of the Greyshirts volunteering in Ventura were women. The IC of the entire op was a female, the command staff on this operation were females… even the sawyer instructor was female! And on and on it went. Best of all, they WANTED me to fit in with them and WANTED to teach me, help me, and encourage my growth.
Finding Team Rubicon now, and especially finding a cadre of other badass women Greyshirts—some civilians, some veterans—was the last thing I had expected when I signed up to help with this disaster response. After returning from a tour in Afghanistan in 2011 and abruptly losing my Marine Corps career due to an injury, I had struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. By the grace of God, I’m still here today. A lot of my friends aren’t that lucky. Now, all these years later, while mucking houses filled with flood debris and sawing down toppled trees, I had found my people. I found other women just like me in a society where I typically fit in with men. I found myself not feeling like the lone wolf anymore.
How have I gone my entire life not knowing this culture, this society, this secret group of badass women existed, and I wasn’t alone? The best part, they were all well-respected by the men. It was the first time I’d seen a clear picture of what true equality looks like. The raw truth? Nobody cared about the gender of the Greyshirts serving beside them or the ones leading us through the operation. The only thing we all cared about was each other and the mission—exactly as it should be.
I’m reminded of a quote by Ronald Reagan that we often hear in the Corps: “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” People like us go our entire lives trying to find and create what we once had, most never being able to fill that void. Team Rubicon volunteers don’t have that problem.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I know that if I had found Team Rubicon earlier, I wouldn’t have struggled so much. The environment and purpose this organization has created for fellow veterans like myself is no small accomplishment. Now, I can’t wait to continue to serve and to be more involved on a regular basis with Team Rubicon. It would be my honor to pour into this organization and help it grow so that we can reach others who feel the way I once did.