Service Transcends the Status Quo

Finding Common Ground Through Continued Service with Team Rubicon

Region IV volunteers conducted debris removal and chainsaw operations in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in response to an EF-3 tornado.

I landed in Hattiesburg, MS, late at night on February 2 to join Operation Iron Bird. A rented Ford pickup with Greyshirt (volunteer) Vic Civitillo at the wheel met me at the airport, and it was almost midnight when we arrived at Team Rubicon’s Forward Operating Base and billeting at the Parkway Heights United Methodist Church. I briefly met a few of the folks in the command post who were up late planning tomorrow’s activities, then I was given a mattress to place under my sleeping bag and an area to rest. So far, so good.

My first deployment with Team Rubicon lived up to the expectations I’d had upon applying to work for the organization full time.

I arrived that night with my teammates already snoring in their racks, and went to sleep still with very little idea what to expect on my first-ever Team Rubicon deployment. Growing up just outside Philadelphia and then spending most of my post-Navy life in California, I’d never seen the aftermath of a tornado with my own eyes. What would the damage look like? How were the residents of Hattiesburg coping? Who were my teammates? Would a rookie office-worker droid like me be able to earn their trust and respect in the field? All these questions would have to wait until tomorrow for answers.

Team Rubicon heavy equipment operators assisted in demolishing damaged houses and clearing debris.

Tomorrow turned into today quickly enough. Reveille at 0600 courtesy of Greyshirt Ed coming through the room and giving each of us a shake on the shoulder. By 0800 everyone had downed their coffee and eaten breakfast, and circled up for the morning briefing. Strike Team assignments were handed down, Greyshirts buddied up for the day. We loaded our truck, piled in, and headed out for a day’s work. We went where our Palantir phone told us there were jobs to do. We followed the plan, we improvised, we swung sledgehammers, leaned on prybars, filled wheelbarrows, cut and removed felled trees, cleared brush and debris tangled by 150+mph winds…Having served in peacetime, the destruction was unlike anything I’d seen before. But working together, I was amazed at the progress we made. In TR fashion, we “got sh*t done.”

The next day was the same. Third day, the same. Over the course of these few days I got to know everyone on the Op. We worked together, ate together, and drank a couple beers together in the evenings.

Through the haze of sweat and the blur of constant activity, unconsciously a pattern began to emerge to my mind’s eye. Something very different from the world I’d left behind a few short days ago. The pattern was: Community. Identity. Purpose. Team Rubicon’s mantra, in living color.

It was such a stark contrast from the status quo back in “The World” — the relentless barrage of noise, static, divisiveness. A constant drumbeat hammering on the differences between people, intent on driving wedges between us. But in Hattiesburg no one talked about politics. In fact we really didn’t talk at all about things that made us different; we talked instead about the things we shared in common. The call to service that brought us here, what we’d done on the job that day, stories from our time in uniform, stories from our time in grey shirts, our personal successes and struggles, the satisfaction that comes from being useful to people in need.

On the fourth day I awoke knowing I’d fly out at midday. I stood in for the departed Logistics Section Chief at the morning briefing and watched the strike teams roll out. I was tired and sore — but I wanted to be in one of those trucks. When the time came, a fellow Greyshirt gave me a lift to the airport. Two hops and nine hours of travel back to California. Plenty of time to reflect on my first TR experience. I wondered…Had I earned my grey shirt? I hope so. Had I learned a lot? No doubt, be it only the tip of the iceberg.

Then it hit me. In Mississippi I’d reconnected with something fundamental to human nature. Maybe for the first time since I’d taken the uniform off, I felt again the immense power we all have at our disposal when we choose to focus on what unites us. When we opt out of the narrow-minded narrative on offer seemingly everywhere, and instead make commitments to each other, and most of all, commitments to serve.

Then and there, in seat 22C somewhere between Dallas and Los Angeles, I resolved to carry this lesson into every other facet of my life. The path back to our best selves is cluttered with obstacles placed in our way by society, by circumstance, and not least by ourselves. I’ve only taken the first steps of my journey — but I think for me this is what it will always mean to be a Greyshirt, to be part of the TRibe. To let service transcend the status quo.

Learn more about the only nonprofit organization uniting the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams at