Written by Donna Burdett

I Am No Longer Broken

A Retired Navy Corpsman Begins to Heal Through Continued Service with Team Rubicon

For as long as I can remember, I have always had a plan. I was going to join the Navy, work hard, and become a doctor so I could help those who needed it most. I was blessed with a big brain that just seemed to know how to care for the sick and injured. Medicine made sense to me, and I loved everything about it. I was an EMT at 15 and earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing by the time I turned 17.

I joined the Navy as soon as I was old enough, but I wanted to serve as enlisted because I had never been around people my own age. I loved everything about the Navy: the structure, the organization, and the mission. I advanced well and before I knew it, ten years had passed.

Then the war in the Gulf started. As a Navy Corpsman, I wanted to help. I had the training, the skill, and my help was needed. So I went to war.

My life was turned upside down one day in the desert. An explosion took my brain and most of its content and turned it into an unorganized cluster of confusion. Hard as I tried to reset that big brain of mine, it just would not work.

Fifteen major surgeries and countless procedures later, I was retired from the Navy at 42. Confused, hurt, and a little angry that my “plan” was taken from me.

Unable to hold a job or any kind of medical license, I drifted for what seemed like an eternity. The person I had been was gone, and I did not know the person I had become. My life was no longer a life but an existence. I felt thrown away by the world.

I saw an online ad about Team Rubicon. I looked them up and liked what I saw, but I was hesitant to submit my information because I did not think I could take one more rejection as the person I’d become after my accident.

Honestly, I did not think they would want a broken down body with a barely working mind. So, I liked TR on Facebook and sort of forgot about it. Then, the holidays came and went and I was at my lowest point. Nothing was working out in my personal life and I was feeling empty inside, preparing to check out.

Then in February 2014, the ice storm hit Augusta, GA. I lived in Florida so I signed up to deploy with TR and something wonderful happened — the coordinator called me and she spoke words I hadn’t heard in a long time:

“We would like you to come help us.”

I actually thought she called my number by mistake, but it wasn’t an error. Team Rubicon wanted me, and by this time, I was a 50-year-old woman who has trouble remembering to get to the grocery store in my own neighborhood some days.

I wanted to be excited about it, but I was actually a bit scared. I was sure I was going to get this nice lady who was giving me a chance fired, but she booked me a plane ticket and off I went to Operation: Frozen Oak.

Donna deployed on Operation: Rocky Top in Speedwell, Tennessee in the summer of 2014.

When I arrived, everyone was cleaning saws and laughing, and the mood was one of true caring and love. The incident commander introduced me as “Doc” and I was invited to join the strike teams and do good work to help those that really needed it. My teammates depended on me to help keep them safe, and it was like being in the Navy again.

No one looked at me as broken. I had purpose again. I adopted a new attitude. I couldn’t do everything, but I could do something. These people accepted me for who I was. I had value again, and by the end of the operation, I had made friends I’m sure I will have for the rest of my life.
Donna is currently serving on Operation: Saw Humbug in Columbia, Mississippi in the wake of tornadoes that swept through town just before Christmas

As this year comes to a close, I am on my fourth deployment and have found what I want to do with the rest of my life — keep serving with TR. I am one of them and they are now a part of the new me. I’m no longer broken and I am thankful to have found myself through Team Rubicon.

Like what you read? Give Team Rubicon USA a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.