When Disaster Response Becomes Personal

Bobbi Snethen

When Hurricane Matthew began to threaten his family, Retired Air Force veteran Joel Vail chose action.

Region IV’s Joel Vail first heard of Team Rubicon while serving in the Air Force. He signed up to become a Greyshirt as soon as he retired from the military. He maintained a close eye on Team Rubicon’s operations, but focused primarily on completing his degree in healthcare administration and raising two young daughters. Despite his best attempts to find purpose and fulfillment in his academic work and desk job position, Joel said, “No matter what I did, I could not connect with my work. I missed the satisfaction of being dirty after a day of hard work; I missed working directly with people.”

Joel had the pleasure of meeting Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Joe Marm, at a Veterans Day event in North Carolina.

Joel had the pleasure of meeting Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Joe Marm, at a Veterans Day event in North Carolina.

Last month, Hurricane Matthew made its way up the East Coast, setting its sights on Joel’s state of residence, North Carolina. His daughters, who live with their mother, experienced power outages and severe weather events, leaving them with a sense of fear and panic. Joel worked closely with their mother to get them to safety and realized it was time to channel his frustration into action. Disaster response just became personal.

“I put the hammer down [or picked it up, in the case of Team Rubicon] and finally followed through with actively engaging in Team Rubicon.” Joel immediately joined two other volunteers for a reconnaissance mission in some of the most affected counties in North Carolina. The team worked tirelessly to identify the exact communities that would benefit most from Team Rubicon’s assistance. After the situational assessment was complete, Joel flew to Iceland to visit his fiancée, but couldn’t keep his mind from returning to the people of North Carolina.

Unable to cast aside his concern, he immediately signed up to deploy to Goldsboro, North Carolina, in support of Operation Seymour Action. During his time on the ground, he supported muck and gut operations as part of a field-based strike team, and conducted damage assessments to identify areas in most need of Team Rubicon’s support.


A strike team takes no chances with black mold in Goldsboro, NC.

Recognizing the value of his combat medic training to others, he also organized a bleeding control training course for Team Rubicon volunteers within Region IV, and special guests from Team Rubicon Canada, including individuals participating in Operation Seymour Action. The class provided basic information on how to properly use a tourniquet – making students force multipliers in the fight to reduce blood loss-related fatalities. When asked why he organized the training event, Joel responded, “I want to be the person to prepare or enable others to make a difference.”


Joel organized a medical training course for local Greyshirts.

Joel lives in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and has a strong interest in increasing the number of Greyshirts in his Region, particularly from nearby Camp Lejeune. “You’re giving up time to help people you don’t know. Some days, you can barely stand because of your service-related injuries, and yet, you’re volunteering to do back-breaking work. Why? Because you’re changing the lives of both the homeowners you meet and the volunteers you work side-by-side with every day.”

Joel is now preaching the TR gospel in his home state of North Carolina.

Joel is now preaching the TR gospel in his home state of North Carolina.

“We’re going to open a crawl space, you’re going to dry heave, people are going to start laughing, and you’re going to realize everyone has been in your position before. The hammers start swinging, the music is turned on, and you’ve found your battle rhythm.”

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