Repaying My Fellow Americans with Service

Stokely "Stokes" Samuel

A U.S. Air Force veteran reflects on committing to disaster relief, volunteering for Hurricane Sandy, and why he serves.

My perspective might be a little different from that of other Greyshirts: I got involved with Team Rubicon after almost 26 years in the U.S. Air Force. I was looking for a volunteer organization to join that would help the community and use my skills, so I did a search for disaster response and read about TR. I thought it would be cool to use my organizational and leadership skills, work with veterans, and help the community. And TR doesn’t charge people. The way I look at it is the American taxpayers already paid me. They paid for my training, for me to develop these skills and knowledge. Now I’m repaying that debt to the taxpayers for my almost 26 years of active duty by helping in times of need. Giving of oneself is great and it’s an honor for me to serve my fellow citizens once again as a member of Team Rubicon.

I’ve done seven operations and community service projects with TR. My first was during Hurricane Sandy recovery. We cleaned up debris, mucked and gutted houses and worked on a VFW building. We didn’t get the VFW building finished but made it presentable in time for a Memorial Day event.

Greyshirts at work. Stokely “Stokes” Samuel is on the right.

I then worked with the northeast region on a Silver Spring, MD, Habitat for Humanity project, dry walling and rebuilding a house. Late last year I took a TR Core Ops training, but due to a prior commitment, I couldn’t deploy with the TR Houston disaster response team. So when the opportunity to volunteer on the Houston Rebuild came up, I knew I had to go. And it was there that I really caught the TR bug…and signed up for an operation in July while I was still working on the Houston rebuild.

I love the instant gratification of seeing the results of the work as you clean and hearing how grateful the people are. We go where people really need us. We’re straightforward and helpful. It isn’t hard work per se but it is very fulfilling helping fellow Americans or anyone else in need, and to hear people’s stories.

And the camaraderie, the brotherhood and sisterhood as we work together is also very fulfilling to my soul. We all have similar backgrounds, so we may talk and tell things to each other—even though we may have met only two or three days ago—that we may not even tell our loved ones.

All of the Clay Hunt Fellows were great, very motivated, and the leadership is good. It’s made me look into applying to the Fellowship and to see how TR can be my full-time job. I’m thinking about what my legacy can be after I’m gone, and TR is a great organization. So I’m frequently on the TR website looking for operations and training – there is always something going on, especially on the East Coast.

A few weeks ago we had flooding in Baltimore so I thought I’d take a week and help out. But then suddenly I got a call that a third wave had opened in Puerto Rico and TR wanted me to go. Well, I couldn’t be in two places at once so I only did a Sunday in Baltimore, went to work on Monday, and then flew to Puerto Rico on Tuesday for a week. In Puerto Rico, I got to be a strike team leader for the first time. My team was all prior military, from a 70-something-year-old Special Forces guy who served during Vietnam to a young army guy who fought in Iraq and one who was in Afghanistan. We got along well both on and off the ops.

My goal is to do as many TR operations as I can until I leave for a job with my agency overseas later this year. I will be in the U.K. for a few years, but there’s a TR over there so I hope to get involved with those folks. My day job is important, but TR the organization, the mission and the people fulfill so much more in my life.

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