Personal Reflection from Army Veteran Rob Ulrey

Rob Ulrey

Over the last week I had the opportunity to do something I had never done before, something that I have craved being a part of since its inception a little under 3 years ago.  I was finally able to deploy to a disaster area with Team Rubicon.  There is more to this story though, as I was not only able to deploy with a group of incredible veterans and first responders, but I was given the opportunity to lead a team that up until last week, only existed on paper.  Words will never do justice to these men and women and the organization that we belong to, but I am going to try.

Imagine if you will, a hurricane blowing outside the windows of your car as you are desperately trying to figure out a rally point for 13 volunteers.  That was me on Monday afternoon, no real direction, only a hunch and a hope that I could pull this off.  My team was still at home, racing to pack the last of their bags and waiting for the location where we would rally, some of them hundreds of miles from me.  All of them were focused and ready to jump in their personal vehicles and use their own gas to get wherever they needed to.  Some of these amazing people were fighting Hurricane Sandy on their own turf, inches of snow piling up in some places and sheets of rain and wind in others.

Sometime during the first couple of hundred of miles of travel (what would turn out to be over 1400 miles), it was determined that the name of this Team Rubicon operation would be “Greased Lightning.” My team would soon prove that this was not only proper, but fitting as well.

When the calm had temporarily settled, the team sprang into action and converged on Trenton, NJ, some coming from as far away as Tennessee. Each member arrived with no more knowledge than I, only the understanding that we would find a way to make a difference. Introductions were short and to the point, we had never worked together before and to be honest, this was the first time we had met.

We launched into Ocean County, NJ together as a team. Our line of vehicles resembled a military convoy we all once knew.  Our precision, attention to detail, and willingness to work in austere conditions with no specific information paralleled a life we once lived.  It all seemed to be coming back to us now, the esprit de corps, the caring for one another and watching our sixes.  This group of 13 strangers was coming together as a team, defined by its unity and resolved to assist.

The work was plentiful and the weary faced residents of Brick, NJ were shocked that a non-profit organization was able to arrive on scene and help before the National Guard was fully operational.  We just nodded and went back to work, sometimes hiding our own tears of the suffering and using it as inspiration and motivation to keep working, even though we were exhausted.

The dynamic of the team was incredible.  Each person carried their own weight and then some.  Individuals set aside their personal beliefs and needs for the betterment of the team.  Kindness and giving were a common occurrence right along with dedication and hard work.  The smiles of the residents of Brick feed us, kept the motivation flowing.  We were doing something good.

It was my team that kept me going, I fully trusted them on the ground while I was out trying to get access to more heavily damaged areas or looking for our next donated meal or making sure we had enough supplies to make it through the night.  Never once did I hear anyone raise a voice, say a harsh word or criticize another team-mate.  It was the unity that made us successful it was our unity that helped the residents of Brick, NJ.

This continued for days on end.  Each morning arriving a little bit earlier so that we could maximize the daylight – there was no power.  Each meal brought us together on the worksites, the tired faces of the team that kept up our own spirits with jokes.  The experienced teaching the lesser on the nuances of disaster recovery.  At the end of the night we would all pile around, conducting an After Action Review of our progress of the day, much like the military, so we could learn from our mistakes and continue to drive forward while mitigating the risk.

But my time was drawing near; I knew it well in advance but tried to ignore it. Slowly it crept up on me until it was time. It was time for me to return to my mundane life.

Sadly, I had to leave my team.  But like the Pathfinder that I once was, I found a way in and lead others along the way.  Now that I have left the disaster area I miss the team, their efforts and long to lead them again.  But I know that they are in good hands, as they are growing and that there are many others now pouring into the region from Team Rubicon, from all across this great land.

One of the most touching things I heard from a resident of Brick, NJ was when an older lady said “I have always heard about kindness on TV, but I never expected to witness it in such a manner as what Team Rubicon displays it.” I think that says it all.

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