Reflection from Navy Veteran Denise (Dee) Clancy

Reflections of Yesterday (and a few days before that, and maybe even a few years before that)…

Louisiana State Police transport residents of Braithwaite in a fan boat to their flooded houses so they can retrieve personal items. In the foreground, a levee has been intentionally breached by heavy machinery, to allow flood water to drain back to the Mississippi River after Hurricane Isaac’s storm surge filled the town like a water bowl.

Denise (dee) Clancy

It’s after midnight on what is technically my fourth day in the New Orleans area in support of Team Rubicon’s Operation Bayou Blitz. After midnight. I should be sleeping, but I’m honestly too keyed up to lay my head down right now. The things that I’ve seen today, the things that I’ve helped do the past few days, the team that I’ve been a part of this last week, are running through my mind like an incredible movie on an endless loop.

I joined Team Rubicon in the spring. I saw an ad on Facebook about a Veteran’s organization that did disaster relief, and did some research. Before I’d finished reading through the website, I knew I had to be part of the group. I was worried though. Part of what I’d read was the bios on some of the original members. Needless to say, I am in no way in the same category as the men that founded TR, or most of the people that had bios. The only thing I had in common with most of them was that I was a Veteran, but my 10 years of service in the Navy was so far from the experiences of combat Veterans that even that commonality was tenuous at best.

I joined the Navy when I was 18. I wasn’t sent to the military, or forced to join. I joined because people in my family serve in the military. That’s what we do. My great-grandmother had 13 kids. Twelve of those kids made it at least to age 18. Her nine living sons all served in the military. Her three daughters married military men. Service is in my blood. My grandfather served in the Marine Corps during Korea, and he earned a Purple Heart for his efforts. My mother married a military man, and I spent the early part of my life moving from base to base, learning about service to a country that I didn’t see a lot of until I was six years old. Serve is what we’ve always done, because someone has to do it, but not everyone is willing. I learned at an early age that someone has to be willing to serve and defend this country, or it won’t be worth defending at all. It wasn’t hard for me to make the decision to join the Navy. I felt like it was something I’d been waiting my entire life to do. It felt right.

I served 10 years and never regretted a second of my service. When my time was over though, I was left with a feeling that I still had more to do. I don’t mean that I should have stayed in, my decision to get out was logical and I have no doubt that it was the best decision for me and for my family. I mean that something was missing. The feeling that I was doing something bigger than me? That feeling was no longer part of me, and I wasn’t sure how to fill that void. I became a volunteer junkie, everything from Meals on Wheels to Habitat for Humanity. Sometimes it helped.

I guess what it boils down to is I have this urge, this deep down need, to help people. The Navy filled that void for a decade. I spent another decade searching for something else. Then I found Team Rubicon.

My TR region organized monthly community service projects. I volunteer for every one that I know about, and I generally drag at least one of my kids or my husband along with me. I want my kids to know, to totally understand, that in order to appreciate the things they have, sometimes they have to see people that have much less. I want them to know that it is their responsibility to help people that need help, especially when they are able to do so. I firmly believe that if you are able to help, you should help, regardless of if your first inclination is to help. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, if you can help, you should.

Danny Zanelotti and Denise Clancy load logs onto a trailer for removal, after Team Rubicon cut up a fallen oak tree from the yard of a Hurricane Isaac victim in southern Louisiana.

A hurricane hit my brother’s city earlier this week. I was worried for his life. He was more worried that he was going to miss work. I contacted my regional director and was approved to go on this mission, my first disaster with Team Rubicon. I drove 24 hours through a storm to meet up with people I’ve never met, and the only thing we have in common is the fairly new organization made up of Veteran’s and medics to help strangers during traumatic events.

I’ve tested myself on this trip. I’ve moved out of my comfort zone and done things that I don’t normally do. I physically exerted a body that is getting older every day and likes to remind me of that every chance it gets. I’ve seen an area ravaged by a storm that no one expected to be as bad as it was. I’ve hauled trees and tromped through mud, and talked to the most amazingly resilient people in these communities. But most of all, I’ve found a group of people that just “get” me. They’re not here for glory or recognition or a spotlight. They get up early, work all day in heat that is more intense than I’ve ever known, and they do it with a smile.

It amazes me and humbles me that I am standing in this group, with these people that think the same way that I do, and just want to serve. I have been brought to tears so many times during this trip, quiet tears of reflection and of awe.

Thank you, Team Rubicon, for giving me a chance to once again be a part of something so extraordinary. I am forever indebted to this organization for once again giving me the chance to serve.

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