Two First-Time Greyshirts Take On One Last Wish

Connie McNamara

In Florida after Hurricane Ian, veteran volunteers get the chance to help one of their own serve his family a final time.

Grant Covington was in Charlotte County, FL, on his first deployment with Team Rubicon when he noticed, among a long line of people queued up to talk to FEMA representatives, an older man perched on the seat of his walker, waiting patiently.

Covington and other Team Rubicon members were working that line, encouraging people to also sign up for Crisis Cleanup, a collaborative database of assistance needed that’s shared with relief agencies. So, the U.S. Air Force veteran approached the  man, who was wearing a hat with the Marine Corps emblem, hoping not only to get him to file a request with Crisis Cleanup, but also to see if there was any help Team Rubicon could provide.

Despite the heat and the long line, the man, whose name was Paul, was happy to chat. He talked about his grandchildren, how he likes to fix motorcycles, and that he was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He mentioned that he’d be going to Indiana soon, where his 18 grandchildren live, on a trip arranged by the VA so he could see them one more time before he passed.

Last spring, doctors had found a spot on Paul’s lungs. Recently he’d been assigned hospice care. Doctors told him he had five weeks left to live.

Then, Hurricane Ian made landfall, damaging the trailer where Paul and his wife, who is also disabled, live. With water saturating the living areas, the couple had been forced to move into an old RV in the driveway of their home and were figuring out what they would do next.

Paul said he was at peace and looked forward to joining his parents and siblings in heaven, but he worried about his wife. So, despite his failing health, Paul had driven 40 miles and taken his place in the long FEMA line to ensure she would get the storm assistance she needed—before anything happened to him.

Covington and Connor Falk, a veteran on the first day of his first-ever Team Rubicon deployment, pried Paul out of line. The Vietnam veteran was nervous about losing his place, but other hurricane survivors waiting nearby encouraged him to go with the Greyshirts. 

Covington and Falk contacted government officials on-site to expedite Paul’s case; then, they notified their incident commander about Paul’s situation. Within 90 minutes, Team Rubicon strike teams had arrived at the Vietnam veteran’s trailer. 

Over the course of five hours, 15 Greyshirts worked to clear debris from around the trailer and tarp the roof. 

Sharing the story of their day over dinner that night, Covington and Falk got choked up talking about Paul. “I felt I was speaking with a hero and a national treasure,” Covington said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve teared up like that. I’ve been unable—perhaps unwilling—to forget the experience. Paul and his wife are in my prayers, and Team Rubicon is in my future.”

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