On Oct. 20, Simon and Schuster release Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home by NY Times bestselling author Joe Klein, and we had the honor of asking him a few questions about why he felt compelled to detail the founding of Team Rubicon.
What about the founding of Team Rubicon inspired you to author Charlie Mike?
I was inspired to write Charlie Mike when I embedded with the troops downrange, mostly in Afghanistan. I saw Soldiers and Marines governing towns, helping people—and I thought: this generation of veterans is going to have a natural desire to serve and lead when they come home. Paul Rieckhoff of IAVA told me about Team Rubicon and introduced me to Jake Wood and William McNulty. These were inspiring guys—and the story of crossing the Rubicon into Haiti was a natural. This story, about service and leadership and citizenship, really hit home for me on several levels. But the key was this: it demonstrated how much we civilians have to learn from veterans.
Veterans face unique challenges when returning to civilian life. Why did you feel compelled to highlight this transition?
I’d written about veterans before—Vietnam veterans in Payback, which was published in 1984. But I was blown away by the efforts of your generation to help each other and to help the country. I was really sick of seeing veterans portrayed as losers in the media. From the start, I saw your generation as real assets—potential leaders—and I wanted to get the message out.
Charlie Mike was written in 2012, just two years after Team Rubicon’s inception. Since then, the organization has grown to more than 30,000 members and tripled its operating budget. Did you recognize the staying power of the mission when you interviewed our members back then?
Yes, when I did most of the interviewing in 2012 and 2013, Team Rubicon was beginning to grow rapidly. When I joined the deployment in Moore, Oklahoma, there was a woman Vietnam veteran who joined in…and I thought: this idea and experience is so powerful that it has a chance to expand beyond Post 9/11 veterans to Vietnam, and maybe even to the general population. People really want to be part of something larger than themselves. It’s basic human nature…and it’s something we’ve pretty much lost in our society.
You also embedded with TR during 2013’s Operation: Starting Gun in Moore, Oklahoma. What made the greatest impact on you there?
I was blown away by several things—by how organized TR was, by the way the church groups and others looked to TR for leadership, but most of all on the joy that we all felt, working together. I’m looking forward to more TR deployments in the future.
There are dozens of tattoos of Team Rubicon’s logo scattered across the backs, thighs, and arms of members across the country. Have you ever witnessed such buy-in with a volunteer organization before?
It’s been the greatest privilege of my career, getting to embed with our troops downrange—and then to watch you come home and Charlie Mike. As a journalist, I have to cover all sorts of depressing things—Washington, politics, the Middle East—but the experience of reporting and writing this book has filled me with optimism about your generation and our country’s future. When you actually experience Team Rubicon, as I have, it’s a no-brainer: the love and enthusiasm and energy and tattoos. I’m just thrilled to have told your story.
Lastly, what are some good resources for veterans who want to share their own stories through writing?
Team Rubicon has proven that helping others is a way to help yourself. Writing is another way and there are several writing projects for veterans out there. You’ve experienced something extraordinary downrange and, now, back home. Writing about it—in as much detail as you can muster—is a really good way of getting your mind around the things you’ve experienced. The most important resources a writer can have are: courage, persistence and a respect for the written word. Every sentence is a challenge. Every challenge contains the possibility of victory.
To learn more how you can purchase a copy of Charlie Mike, head to teamrubiconusa.org/charliemike. Ten percent of the proceeds will benefit TR.