The Light of The Grey Shirt

Jeremy Gaal

Team Rubicon is for everyone: "They pull you in and embrace you for regardless of if you’re a combat vet, civilian, or first responder."

Initially, I joined Team Rubicon to find some people my age to hang out with and swap war stories (essentially a younger man’s VFW). I hoped to be able to help every now and again. I was out of a job, lacked people to hang around with, and was beginning to spiral downwards where many of us have been before. I was as it was put, a lost soul trying to find his way. Throughout my six months as a part of TR, I can say I have found that way.

Being in the military they tell you deployment will change you, and with that I agree. Both of my combat deployments took pieces of me, pieces that keep me from being whole. Part of life after the military is figuring out how to deal with that, filling those missing spaces with something all while building a meaningful existence. Many veterans I know and have met along the way are struggling with just that, moving forward. It taunts us and at time haunts us through flashbacks, dreams, and can make some days harder than others. I bring this topic up because during Operation Fox Yeah I learned I lost a friend and battle buddy to suicide. It pushed me into a place I hadn’t wanted to go, to question why, and to make me wonder if this was all worth it.  This was truly where Team Rubicon came through for me.

My first meeting was with my membership coordinator who gave me the lay of the TR land. To be honest, it sounded too good to be true. But I was intrigued, so I dove in. My first TR event was damage assessment training from the MTC, Mobile Training Center, in Colorado Springs. From the moment I walked into the room, any apprehension about not wanting to be there melted away. After the training and social I was eager to see if the environment carried over into actual work.

Jermey (far left) on operation Burnt Tree III.

Fast forward to my first operation within my region, Burnt Tree III. Again, the feeling of belonging was there the moment I dropped my gear onto my bunk.  I got a few accolades during the time for literally toppling trees by pushing them over. But really, I was just happy to spend the weekend with like-minded people doing good and hard work.

My first national Operation TRidge, was more of the same. We spent two whole days mucking out a basement that had been filled with mud to our knees. I could not have been happier to do it.

Each operation I have been on essentially goes the same: you meet a whole bunch of people at an airport who you’ve never met before and by the end of your time there you are family. This, of course, is an over generalization of things. But the group really comes together and no matter what is going on. They pull you in and embrace you for regardless of if you’re a combat vet, civilian, or first responder.

During Fox Yeah word had spread about my friend who lost her battle with suicide, I had Greyshirts who didn’t know who I was coming up to me and telling me about their friends who also lost that battle. They let me know they were there for me and refused to let me stray from the group. They put me to work, gave me a team to lead, and a purpose behind the team. I left Operation Fox Yeah profoundly impacted by people who, at most, had known me for two weeks. I leaned on, trusted, and I turned to them when I needed help.

About a week after Fox Yeah I was called by an employer I had interviewed with and was offered a job. Life began falling back into place for me. I having my purpose, direction, and motivation restored really helped me. This only pushed me back into TR yet again when they called for volunteers for Houston.

Being one of the early groups down to Operation Hard Hustle was at times tedious. There was a lot of hurry up and wait while getting supplies, trucks, and people together. Once we were sent out, all of that seemed to melt away.

In the area, we were in I was one of only a handful of Greyshirts had previous experience. So I tried to help the first-timers whenever I could. What struck me the most was just like my first operation where I was embraced, at least 10 of our new Greyshirts on the ground all came together like we had been on operations before together. We came together around muck outs, assessments, sweat, some tears, and a bunch of beers.

Mucking out a basement on Operation TRidge.

We motivated each other when we were tired through the symphony of dueling sledgehammers laced with copious battle screams as a kitchen was dismantled in less than 5 minutes. We came together on 9/11, sharing stories and tears even when it hurt. We took time to reflect on what we have seen, heard, and had to do when time was so critical to life. We came together around bundt cake, cards against humanity, karaoke, and alligator bites. Most importantly, we came together from all across the country because there were those in need.

This is why I will never stop being a member of Team Rubicon. Because even in the darkest hour of the darkest day, the light of the grey shirt waiting and willing to serve will be there.  Being here helps fill the empty spaces that combat deployments have left. While they may never be “full” so to speak. The time spent in a grey shirt is therapeutic to both my mind and spirit. To my battle buddy who took her life, Jill, I hope that you are at peace and that you may help me find those who are struggling and bring them to this cause.

I dedicate my time with Team Rubicon to you, and of course to my Greyshirt family.

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