I’m sitting at my desk unable to focus; my mind keeps drifting back to Texas. I hear chainsaws running somewhere in the background, I think about the war and life stories I heard from homeowners. I replay the conversations I had with sawyers on my strike team and the stories from the field. My adrenaline is still high and part of me is anxious to redeploy to Texas.
My name is Korey Schroeder and I work as a Wildlife Conservation Specialist and Wildland Firefighter in Northeastern South Dakota. I’m the Team Rubicon State Administrator for South and North Dakota and Wyoming, and I serve as a Regional Chainsaw Instructor.
I’ve been asked several times recently why I deployed to Texas. My answer is simple: Hurricane Harvey is personal for me.
I was born and raised in Victoria, TX. Some of my family still lives there and some live in Rockport, Corpus Christi, parts of Houston, and other small towns across South Texas.
On Aug. 25, I was more than 1,500 miles away video chatting and messaging my parents as one of the largest hurricanes in history was making landfall on the Texas coast. When the video ended, I read a text saying, “We just lost power.” Hours later the text said, “The carport just collapsed” and then “The roof is leaking and water is coming in.”
When my mom texted “Pray for us,” I was overrun with emotions. I was scheduled to fly to El Paso, TX, in a few short days to participate in Team Rubicon’s Command and General Staff training to hone my leadership skills and brainstorm with other leaders about how to improve our structure in disaster response. I was tempted to cancel and try to get to the field instead, but I knew the damage from the hurricane and all the high waters would make it impossible to get to my family for at least a week.
I went to southwest Texas, met two dozen leaders from across the country, Canada, and Australia. I Introduced myself, shared my home town, and the support from everyone was phenomenal. They reassured me we would all get our chance to serve, and they were right.
Later that week, a RECON team was dispatched. As soon as the deployment availability email arrived, I signed up. Hurricane Harvey was personal but it was also an incredible experience. I was on an American Airlines charter flight from Denver to Houston on Sept. 23.
A plane full of eager Greyshirts was something I’d never experienced. I landed and was assigned to Rockport, TX. It was emotional and bittersweet at the same time. Emotional as I drove by homes, restaurants, stores, and sights I loved as a child – all demolished and no longer standing. Bittersweet because I returned with the ability to serve the community I grew to love as a child.
This was my first National operation with Team Rubicon. I started out as a strike team member on a chainsaw team and after a few days moved my way up into a Division Supervisor role overseeing all the chainsaw strike teams in the area. Together, with a group of Regional Chainsaw Instructors assigned to Rockport, I taught a chainsaw operations class. We trained eight new sawyers from four different regions.
The week was emotional but it was also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in a long time. I served alongside military veterans, first responders, and civilians. None were locals; they came because they wanted to serve and help out this community in South Texas.
My parents drove down to see me one night. They were able to see what our Forward Operating Base looks like and observe what I do in my spare time. They heard from other Greyshirts about Team Rubicon and their experiences.
They appreciate knowing that people from various backgrounds and all over the country are coming to South Texas to help out these communities. It gave them hope; a light at the end of a dark tunnel during this treacherous time in their life.
And so, thank you. Thank you to the members of our organization deploying to help in Texas. Thank you to all the various communities and organizations who are helping our volunteers. Thank you to those donors who make all of this possible. You provide travel for us to get to our assigned locations, food for us after a long work day, cots for us to sleep on after being in the field.
Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do, and for allowing the Greyshirts in our organization, no matter what their background is, to serve.