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Finding My Utopia

The process of going home is always hard no matter where home happens to be. The return is always a time where I reflect on the value of community, the passion I’ve found through purpose, and the accomplishments of my team. Operation: Rocky Top was an influential experience like no other.

I’ve realized disaster zones are my home. They’re what I seek. The calmness and community that spontaneously occurs when Team Rubicon is encountering chaos and assuaging adversity. In Speedwell, Tennessee, I found my utopia.


After securing my billeting location and being transported to the area of operations for Claiborne and Campbell counties, I started feeling giddy again. I’d just traveled through the morning to get to Tennessee before getting picked up and escorted by my “TR-Mom,” Dee Clancy. Something familiar start creeping up again, and it was the realization I was returning to my utopia. A different location and disaster, but the same service-minded people with the same mission.

The team I couldn’t wait to be reunited with was hard at work, and I was about to join in to break open the can of disaster response whoop ass. I squabbled down below the dash of the truck heading up the driveway, making sure not to be seen by anyone on the disaster ground; going as far as taking off my helmet and getting extremely close with a dirty floorboard. But it paid off. Shock is the only thing that could describe their faces. I got hugs, which turned into a dog pile, which turned into a tumbling mess made up of everyone on scene.


Together, we devised a plan of attack and made quick work of the gigantic trees all over the property, watching over each other and getting shit done at a killer pace. Our team devised some unorthodox means to accomplish the goals of clearing land around the one-story farmhouse. We utilized trees as pulleys, trucks as brute force, and some physics that even Newton would ponder, but what was greater than anything we could pull, tug, or tow was the resilience of Chris Esidore, the homeowner. Our ability to bring some semblance of reality back to his life was rewarding, but it wasn’t our sawyer knowledge or chainsaw mastery. It was our teamwork, effort, and spirit that left him speechless.

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Aaron Marshall is a senior at Western Carolina University studying Sociology, International Studies and Emergency and Disaster Management. Aaron is a recipient of the National Campus Compact Frank Newman Civic Fellowship for his work as a civically engaged leader and is an alumnus of Clinton Global Initiative University. Aaron is an active TR volunteer and a North Carolina Programs District Liaison, who enjoys the occasional long walk on the beaches of the outer banks.