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We Get More Than We Give

At the end of August, I was watching TV and Hurricane Harvey was huge in the news. I jumped online and I came across something about New York State emergency management. I emailed the guy who wrote the piece and asked how I could get involved; how I could help.

He said, since I’m a veteran, Team Rubicon was the best option. He sent a link and I followed it. I read a bunch about the organization, watched all the available videos. The genesis video stuck with me. I was really moved by the stories of veterans coming out of their shells, reconnecting. I was raised to be a helper, and it’s something I like to do, so I signed up.

 

 

I completed the necessary online training and then knocked out as many of the online classes as I could. I ate it up. Palantir, Sawyer, I had a few dozen hours of online training. 

I got an email about volunteering for a deployment and it was quick. I thought it would take longer. I don’t remember if it was for Texas or for Florida; I didn’t care. They just said they needed help and no matter which state I was sent to, I knew I’d be helping my fellow Americans. I also knew, regardless of where I went, I’d face my PTSD. Actually, volunteering meant I’d have to step out of my comfort zone.

Going to the airport and getting on a plane was something I didn’t think I’d ever do again. I normally do everything by myself. Eating out with a group, or eating with a group, is a big step for me. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. I’ve started working on not over analyzing things when I’m out in public. That’s a big element of my PTSD, I overthink everything. Being with the TRibe, though, I’m more at ease, even out in public.

I recently learned from training at the VA that it’s actually healthy to cry. Meeting homeowners, getting handshakes from grateful people after we help them, it makes me cry sometimes. Seeing their emotion breaks into my emotion. That quick connection, sometimes just a two-minute conversation, taps into something inside of me. Then I wipe my eyes, adjust my glasses, cock my hat sideways and get back into the snow.

 

 

Homeowners thank us, and it’s great, but the unspoken thing about Team Rubicon is most of us get more out of it than we give, even if we show up and give our all, day after day. I pay attention, for safety purposes, but the reality is, I know I’m safe when I’m with the TRibe.

You can’t put a price on what I get out of Team Rubicon. I’d PAY to do what we do. Just to be part of it; to work side by side with these guys and gals, to shovel and muck and end the day exhausted. I want to deploy again and again because that feeling is stronger each time. I want other people to know about it, to understand what we get out of it.

I’m learning how to interact with people again. Eye contact, just eye contact, was really hard for me for a long time. I’m comfortable working through that struggle with the TRibe. My path has been so broken since I left the Army, being with the TRibe is the first time I’ve really felt like I’m on a straight line. Instead of focusing on the past, I’ve learned to live in the present and focus on the future.

 

 

I’ve developed the mentality that I just need to show up and put one foot forward. Volunteering, interacting, healing and growing have made me believe I might actually get a job again. That’s something I wouldn’t have said this time last year. 

I wouldn’t be preparing to go to Florida for wildland firefighter training in March, if I hadn’t found Team Rubicon. I’m physically able to do it, I have two arms and two legs, but my head is sewn on a little crooked these days.

I went from unable to make eye contact and afraid to get on the plane to head to Texas, to being a strike team leader on my second deployment to Erie, PA and shaking homeowners’ hands. Along the way I even made a trip to Montana to become a sawyer.

I’ve grown a lot in just four months, Team Rubicon did that for me.

Richard Bly is an Army veteran and WWP Alumni. He lives in New York and volunteers with Region II.