Operation: Upper Nile – Reflection and Update from USMC Veteran Levi Briscoe

Levi Briscoe

Team Rubicon has given me the mission I yearn for along with an outlet for the skills I desire to utilize. Both of these factors are deeply enhanced by the mindset I obtained while serving in the military. After serving for 4 years, which included a deployment to Iraq, I left with a deep wonderment as to my purpose there. I was told I was liberating an enslaved people but certain things left me with more questions than I went in with. Upon discharge from the military, I have gained a wider outlook on things and although I am still seeking answers to my questions, I am proud to have given my body and mind to something greater than myself; to have toiled with the greatest and most selfless people on earth; to have confronted adversity directly.

TR nurse and former Marine Levi Briscoe aids a clinical technician with a refugee too weak to move under her own strength. They carried her into the IMC clinic at refugee camp Gendrassa

Upon deploying with Team Rubicon to South Sudan in 2012, I was first perplexed by the fact that most NGO’s in the world today do not publicly accept military personnel in their organization. It appears a matter of neutrality for them but they dismiss the freethinking and capable aspects of servicemen individually. It’s often forgotten that the military often doubles up with humanitarian missions as evidenced by the USS Comfort, Mercy, and numerous other non-combat operations that have deployed to numerous disasters in Haiti, America, and the Middle East. Beyond that, many joint humanitarian operations have been conducted by servicemen throughout Africa, Pakistan, Haiti, Japan, and Southeast Asia.  Basically, in both circumstances we have a group of people ready to act that need to get from point A to point B with all their equipment plus supplies. Meanwhile, point B just so happens to be a rural out-of-the-way place not easily accessible through traditional transportation means. I can think of no greater or better qualified team to conduct such missions than the top logistical force on Earth coupled with the greatest force of action-oriented people and healthcare providers that the world has ever known. As I operated in South Sudan, I came across many people from military organizations around the world operating discreetly throughout NGO organizations. There are Eastern European helicopter pilots, British military logistical personnel; Australian supply distributors, Belgium WASH experts, and Team Rubicon operating behind the scenes to ensure objectives were met. All were doers prepared to act instead of wasting time in idle discussion. Many NGO’s believe we are incapable of operating with a clear mind but I believe the characteristics shared by those with a military background are perfect in these situations: a desire to throw ourselves into the mix, get our hands dirty, and accomplish real results without a weapon dangling between ourselves and the beneficiaries.

As a member of Team Rubicon, I easily saw our potential on a grander scale. We are servicemen secondary to individuals who desire the propagation of good throughout the world. We exchanged a fight that was serving objectives hidden from view for a candid one; transparent because it is fundamental to human nature- to prevent and alleviate the suffering of mankind. Fortunately, we have the mindset, skills, and resources to accomplish the task. We are the Golden Rule in action doing whatever was necessary even if it appeared unimportant. For now, as an up and coming organization, we are forced to piggyback off the mission of larger organizations; in this instance, International Medical Corps. For me, our role within this organization was incredible and equally as incredible was the recognition that Team Rubicon has the potential to become a key asset in further international operations.

Upon meeting hardship in the early stages of operation, I resumed role as Team Leader but would categorize this role as merely a liaison between actions on the ground and the TR chain of command since a Team Lead was not necessary. Rather, each member independently recognized a gap in the system and took initiative in assuring that gap was filled. They adapted and overcame many small obstacles in order to see that the greater purpose, the well-being of refugees, was met.

The starting point for the team was a base camp that had been hastily built prior to our arrival but which required much improvement and upkeep. Adam D., as a British Infantryman and engineer took point on this endeavor with an extremely tight budget that he made the most of using a team of local laborers. He first set to work creating a septic system; a huge undertaking that would span our entire time there and continues with the following TR team. Second, he began making a well with hopes to make the camp self-sufficient in the future; not an easy task figuring the compact soil in this area. Third, he continued oversight of a brick office space building that began prior to our arrival and which also continues with the next TR team. Fourth, he developed a security gate and a plan that would keep unverified guests out of the base camp. Perhaps the most motivating attribute of Adam’s roll was his ability to be flexible and adapt to whatever challenges were set before him. He could often be seen toiling alongside the local labor force-shovel in hand- or filling in wherever possible on engineering projects throughout our area of operation.

The second area of operation was the Medical clinic at Gendrassa refugee camp. While other organizations were ensuring their camps were perfect prior to opening, Cory B., a Naval and civilian engineer, took charge to ensure the basic needs of the International Medical Corps clinic were met while making improvements in real time as the camp expanded. The clinic began with just a few treatment tents to handle the initial waves of refugees but under Cory’s guidance, expanded to a clinic with a water source, three nine feet deep latrines, a kitchen hut, a covered waiting area, a fence, hand washing stations, a filtered drinking water station for workers, and an initial layer of maram to prevent water damage in the clinic. As nutrition became a priority mission at Gendrassa, Cory ensured that the nutrition team would have a designated area to conduct critical screenings of malnourished children. He conducted thorough planning of this project and set the initial stages in motion for the incoming TR team. For all of these projects, he managed local teams of 5 to 25 people, maintained financial responsibility, and used his social prowess to improvise even in the face of budget shortages.

Alongside the clinic is the Cholera Treatment Unit (CTU). Although no confirmed cases of Cholera have been reported, refugee camps are often at risk due to close proximity living and refugees that are unaccustomed to latrine usage. Because of this, the United Nations deemed this as the priority mission in Maban. Matt B., an Army engineer, took responsibility of this complex project that had a multitude of highly specific guidelines required to prevent the spread of infection. Matt quickly adapted to the challenges of this important mission by designing blueprints for the 25 bed CTU. He implemented them by first building latrines specifically designed to prevent secondary exposure. He also had a thick layer of Maram spread along the whole compound. Other parts in the works as we left was a sanitation station for staff, a morgue, a fetus burial area, cholera beds (a bed with a hole in the middle), and inpatient cholera tents; all of these will be continued by the next TR team. Matt also provided oversight to large labor teams and maintained their financial records. Matt also doubled as the TR journalist taking photos to capture the spirit of the refugee camp.

To ensure the team had adequate supplies for all of these operations, Mohammed M. provided the brunt of logistical operations within Maban. As a native Arabic speaker, he naturally resumed the roll of facilitating many day-to-day interactions. Through him, engineers were able to speak with their laborers and tell them exactly what their duties entailed, he was able to negotiate prices for supplies, utilize a variety of assets in item procurement, and transform the use of logistical resources. Furthermore, many auxiliary assignments relied on him. He conducted important meetings with local religious leaders, went on data collection walkthroughs to gain insight into daily life at the refugee camps, translated at the clinic and vaccination stations, and spoke on behalf of IMC during many important meetings. Nearly every moving part was enhanced by his involvement.

Adam M., a paramedic took over in a variety of medical capacities. He assisted at first at the refugee camp in Batil and then at Gendrassa. This included going on mobile outreaches to the outermost aspects of the camp conducting assessment and providing treatment under standing orders. The clinics also made use of Adam’s skills by utilizing him in the pharmacy and the treatment tent. Since many of the local staff only read small amounts of English, Adam was able to supplement their staff and ensure the proper medication was prescribed as ordered. In the treatment tent, Adam gave intravenous therapy and intramuscular injections to refugees of all ages; many of which were dehydrated or had severe infections. In one patient, Adam recognized a case of improperly treated cerebral malaria and took corrective action to ensure proper treatment was achieved. The very next day, another patient came into the clinic with the same condition and also received quality treatment thanks to Adam’s find and desire to accomplish positive outcomes in the lives of patients.

Team Rubicon provided a quality team of motivated individuals prepared to perform genuine action to achieve their goals. Right when we hit the ground, the team set to work conducting reconnaissance, picking the minds of staff already in country, and working on areas they could reinforce the system. It was as though they had an innate awareness into means of becoming involved and took initiative with zero hesitation. For example, at one point when the budget for local labor was temporarily dried up, the whole team picked up shovels, pickaxes, and wheelbarrows; continuing a labor project to ensure the predetermined timeline was met. The act solicited laughter from locals who wondered “why are white people working?” This seemingly simple display demonstrates the flexibility and adaptable nature of men willing to act beyond their job description in order to achieve an objective. I am proud to have continued service with a motivated team of high caliber individuals and look forward to conducting similar operations in the future.

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