Spreading Some Magic in Tennessee

Mike Parham

Retired Army Major Mike Parham weighs in on the many roles he's held with Team Rubicon since joining last year. Currently, he's serving as the Incident Commander for Operation: Rocky Top in Tennessee.

As the Incident Commander (IC) for Operation: Rocky Top, it’s interesting to reflect on my time as a volunteer, team leader, Operations Section Chief, and now IC. I’ve been a member of Team Rubicon since October 2013, my first deployment being Operation: Frozen Oak last February.

As a volunteer, it was simple: be safe, cut trees, and remove debris or maybe tarp a roof. At the end of the day, clean the equipment and you’re pretty much free, except for the evening briefing. I wasn’t concerned about chow, water, finding the work order location, or reports. I still got to see the faces and talk with those we helped, which is very rewarding and what we’re all about.


Army veteran Mike Parham (far right) briefs the team before they head out to tackle tornado relief for the day.

As a team leader (TL), the job gets a little more challenging. I was accountable for my team, tracking down work orders, and completing reports. The best part? I was usually the one making contact with the homeowner, and when the work order was complete, I experienced that magic moment where there were hugs, tears, and the look of shock from a resident after learning all these dirty and sweaty folks in gray shirts came to help them for free. Little do they realize it’s an amazing feeling for us to be part of a team with that kind of positive impact.

My last few days on Operation: Frozen Oak, I started to learn the role of Operations Chief. Then, on Operation: Red Hills in May, I moved up the ladder to serve as Ops Chief. In this position, you’re somewhat removed from the strike team bonding and rarely come in direct contact with the people we’re helping. I understand someone has to fill this role, and based on my military training, I know I’m one of those people.


While he may not have as many face-to-face encounters with homeowners as IC, Mike is honored to fill a role that allows others to experience those impactful moments.

When I’m in this role, I tell myself it’s a tradeoff for the good of the team. After assigning work orders, wrapping up my areas of the plan, preparing for the next brief, and not heading to bed until the early hours of the morning, I’ll get to go to the field. Occasionally, I get to meet a homeowner while checking in on my teams, and if I’m luck, I catch that magical moment.

Currently,  I have the top job in Tennessee as IC. I have all the responsibility with a staff to tackle most of the work. I seldom get to meet homeowners, rather I’m meeting with county emergency management personnel, state responders, and other disaster relief professionals. Sometimes, it feels like it’s a long way from my time as a volunteer, when life was simpler and I got more sleep. I tell myself someone has to do this job in order for the team to do its job and that first-timer gets to witness a magical moment.

It’s my job to ensure my staff and I take care of our people in the field so they have what’s needed to take care of communities affected by disasters. I think the leadership roles are often too far removed from the awesome team-bonding in the field, but when the entire team’s together, I know we sometimes give up those magic moments so others may experience them. It’s what makes us a TEAM!

  • Greyshirt Always

    Transforming Time into Impact

    How harnessing the irreplaceable gift of volunteers' time creates lasting impact and builds capacity within Team Rubicon and beyond.

  • Reflection

    Remembering Team Rubicon’s Typhoon Haiyan Response 10 Years Later 

    A Greyshirt reflects on his first international operation, tarping a roof during a 7-year-old’s surgery, and how the disaster relief and humanitarian aid nonprofit has changed over the decade.

  • Reflection

    All the Waterworks

    A Greyshirt reflects on proud moments from his time responding to the Morocco earthquake, and how a water filter and tea with an elder nearly broke his composure.

Read More Stories