Life’s a journey, not a destination.
I’ve been called “TR Special Ops.” The last 12 months included two service projects, three training events, a 24-hour Tough Mudder competition, 11 operations, and four additional operations remotely, over 100 days with boots on ground for TR.
I write about a last and a first. It was to be my last deployment in the past 365 days, but this was to be my first International deployment. Operation Hermes is a humanitarian aid response in which a clinical staff provides primary care to refugees at a camp in Greece.
My journey to Greece would start the day after Thanksgiving. I was to meet up with three team members in Washington D.C.; we would fly together and join four team members staying on ground in Greece, with one team member joining from England and one from Australia. Our D.C. group included a nurse and paramedic and a doctor who was on his first operation with TR. Shortly into our transatlantic journey, the flight crew was using the PA system to identify medical professionals on board. Well, yes there was, and sure enough, I see our three medical providers raising their hand and offering assistance.
My first day I was tossed right into the community. After a short tour of the facility and orientation, I drove a car around Greece with two of our volunteer interpreters heading to a CrossFit gym. I am already right at home, as I spent most of 2012-2014 volunteering with CrossFit. I already have a connection. I am grateful to the gym owner who let us work out for free, bringing individuals from as many as five different countries together to forget about everything else and just have a little fun breaking a sweat and building a community.
Our two interpreters would later get first-aid/CPR certified by our TR Australia member and go on to teach a class to the community after he left using CPR mannequins we’d brought over with other supplies from Team Rubicon’s National Operations Center.
It wasn’t but a few days in that I found myself as the “man in charge.” The project manager was getting some much needed time off and left me to fill in. This meant I was to attend the community meetings, a weekly meeting in which the volunteer groups send a representative and the refugees to discuss topics of interest. It was an experience unlike any other. The chance to listen and have a brief glimpse into the lives of the people surrounding me who had given up and lost almost everything is life-changing.
I had the privilege of being invited to dine with one of the refugee families. They shared what little they had with me, and it will not soon be forgotten. The opportunity to me was priceless, being able to taste foreign foods while being welcomed into their home. I feared I was being handed coffee during my dining experience and believe it or not, I can’t stand the taste of coffee, and all I could think about was how I was going to be able to chug down the glass being handed to me as refusing the offered gift was insulting. Luckily, it turned out to be tea, but this was my Indiana Jones moment – think of Temple of Doom, where all I could think about was this was more food than they got in a week.
Although I was there in a supportive role to the healthcare providers, I had one defining moment in which I was making an impact on an individual. There was a young girl who had walked for the first time with some therapy from our physical therapist, who was also once a refugee. She was using crutches and a wheeled walker. She struggled to move one of her feet, which required us to get a splint. After days of searching, a team member finally brought one over from the U.S. The only problem was it was too long and she would be unable to bend her knee it in, rendering it useless. This is where I stepped in and did a little modifying to the splint. I was able to shorten and reinforce it for her to be able to use. Our team dressed it up by adding some fancy glitter, and I was able to see the final product in action before I departed and returned to the U.S.
Something amazing happened when I prepared to depart. There was no goodbye party, and I basically departed without anyone knowing it would be my last moment there, but inside, that feeling I’ve awaited for years surrounded me. I was right where I always imagined myself to be, helping others, making the world a better place. The man I have been waiting to look back at me in the mirror has finally gazed back. I now look to the future again, taking with me these memories from the past in order to continue the mission.