It is tough to put into words what the last week has meant to me but here goes my best shot.
For those of you who don’t know I spent the last week in Texas with Team Rubicon helping with disaster relief efforts. The emotions that ran through my body over the last eight days was the widest range that I have ever experienced. From being nervous and excited to meet new people to sad/happy in seeing what people have gone through and how we helped them. Every day was a range of feelings and emotions from being tired to energetic and monotonous to proud. I could have sworn there was a quick dust swarm at a few houses and the FOB.
It started with meeting others from the region who were going on the American Airlines provided charter flight from KC to Houston. We had hotel access in KC the night before as the flight was supposed to leave very early. I’m very outgoing but meeting others who have been on week-long operations before made me nervous. It ended up being awesome and playing Piccolo was crazy fun. At the airport on October 1st we were able to meet everyone else.
Flying into Houston was a bit confusing. I heard for months about how bad it was in Houston but we didn’t see any of that from the air. I’m sure there was some damage but we expected more. Once landed we were broken up into groups that were going to different FOBs (Forward Operating Base). I was supposed to go to Beumont, TX but was moved to Rockport since I was Sawyer certified. My group loaded into a charter bus and started the 4 hour ride to Rockport.
On the way there we saw a ton of damage. We saw electric companies with teams of 30 trucks putting in new poles. We passed tent communities made up of those whose houses were no longer habitable. Some were using old semi-truck trailers as homes as well. It was disheartening to see that knowing that I’m living in a nice, new house back in KC.
The first operation I was on was to clear trees and shed from a property. It felt good to get some saw work done after chasing a few work-orders that were no longer needed. It wasn’t life-changing help for the owner, though, and I thought that’s what we were there for. I was disappointed, a bit sad and confused with the organization of the entire process. That night the Ops team regrouped, thanked us all for clearing up duplicate/completed orders and stated there would be real work the rest of the week.
Everyday from that point on was another story. On Tuesday we went to a small house with a tree on the roof and a lot of internal water damage. Our strike team consisted of 4 members from my region and 4 from region 1. My region took care of multiple trees and widow-makers that needed to come down and off of the roof. Region 1 took care of the inside. After we cleared the outside I helped region 1 finish the inside by sweeping the rest of the sheetrock and debris out. The house wasn’t livable and the owner wasn’t sure what he was going to do. The owner was so grateful, though, and thanked everyone multiple times. It felt good to help someone who really needed it.
Wednesday was a seriously proud, exhausting day. We drove to Port Lavaca to finish working on a WWII veterans home. He was 92, still driving, and came around to shake everyone’s hand. TR had been working on it for a couple days so we sent 3 strike teams to get it completed. I spent most of my time outside cutting into sections the rolled-asphalt roof that blew off and taking it out to the street. We thought it would take about 90 min but it took 5 hours to complete. I then went inside to pull nails since the rest of the house had been gutted. It was such a high knowing that I helped someone who fought for us so many years ago. I got tears in my eyes as we presented the owner a TR pin and t-shirt.
Thursday & Friday was more of the same. We gutted the house of a veteran who helped develop Saturn rockets. He told us great stories of astronauts being a PITA or doing crazy things. Between getting medicine and issues with the house his wife was having a hard time. It got pretty bad when one of their sons showed up for the first time since the hurricane hit six weeks ago and his first question was where all of his stuff was at. Multiple of us were ready to put him in his place. The owners were writing thank you letters so during breaks they took down all of our names and where we were from. At the end of Friday took pictures (even with their dog, who was smiling!!). I was working with a couple hard-asses but when they said a prayer for our safety and safe return home, even the toughest of our group had tears in their eyes. It was a sad, proud, honoring ride back to the FOB.
Friday night hit everyone really hard. We broke early but at dinner a team member stepped in front of the group. He started talking about his dad, who was a veteran, and how he was pretty miserable. His dad had a bad outlook on everything and didn’t have the motivation to get up and change his stars. He wanted his dad to get off his ass so bad. While on an operation he had one of the sawyers cut a couple “cookies” from a tree. He had everyone sign one for his dad in hopes that would motivate him to volunteer with TR and get his life back in order. A roaring “Hell-Yeah” came from the group.
Then he got really choked up while telling us about his brother. While the TR member was flying from NY to Houston his brother was admitted to a Houston hospital with a mass in his chest. His family didn’t know what it was at the time. The TR member decided to still show up and bust ass all week, which I assure you he did as he was on my team two days. At this point there wasn’t a single dry eye in the FOB, even on the toughest guys I saw all week. This really reinforced to me how much TR means to EVERYONE – its members and the communities they support.
On Saturday I became strike team leader for the first time. We finished taking down a garage without Heavy Equipment. It was a tough job as the owner wanted to get into it to save things as we were cutting sections of it apart. Paul & Will were animals that I had to force breaks onto. When it was done the gratifications to see the roof and walls completely gone carried me all the way through the evening.
Saturday night 9 of us headed back to Houston for the night so we could make our early flight on Sunday. While going through the airport we had multiple people say they saw us on TV and thanked us for our work. The delight on my face could be seen from space. American Airlines staff was so awesome both at the gate and our fight home. The flight crew shook everyone’s hands and gave bottles of water to anyone who wanted it for their drive home once we landed in KC.
While taxiing to our gate the Pilot informed us that KC Airport Fire team had a special treat for us. It’s hard to say that I felt we deserved it based on the other circumstances that it is used for but it was sure appreciated by all of us. It help implant into me the feeling that we get when we doing something good for others.
After being home a few days and reflecting on my time in Texas I am no clearer now with my emotions. What I do know is that almost the entire time I was there I felt like I was genuinely making a difference in the world. Both in talking with other TR members and helping those in need. I have a plethora of new friends. Not just accuantences, but actual friends. It’ll be tough keeping them with people being all over the US but I have already texted with multiple of them this week. Also, there is NO WAY this will be the last operation I go on. I was hooked on what this organization is doing but know I’m fully invested.
PS – I have been donating to Team Rubicon since 2011 and see first-hand where the money goes. Please support me by donating to my Team Rubicon Hurricane Harvey fundraising page. My goal is to raise $500 by the end of the year.
PSS – Here is a TR commercial that T-Mobile is running during the 2017 MLB playoffs. Upon returning Sunday I was a dinner with my family, still in my TR gear, when it came on. A couple people looked at the TV, looked at me, back to the TV, back to me, back to the TV. I just smiled and gave them a nod.