In honor of Veterans Day, here's a much-needed story about the courage, goodwill and valuable skills that our veterans have to offer our society.
Those of us on the outside might guess that most vets would be happy to complete their tours of duty and return home. Team Rubicon has discovered that this is not always the case. In fact, the international disaster relief veteran services organization has found many former US military personnel who are eager to continue going on missions in service of humanity -- and therefore provide an untapped goldmine of expert volunteers for aid missions.
Jake Wood and William McNulty, both honorably-discharged Marines, founded Team Rubicon two years ago after self-deploying to Haiti to assist with earthquake relief. This experience revealed to them that veterans have both superior training and real-world experience with crisis management, leadership, and problem solving--skills that prove extremely valuable in disaster zones. Their intention was to create a non-profit that "bridges the gap," often a week in duration, between when a crisis occurs and humanitarian aid organizations begin to arrive en masse.
Furthermore, the founders saw Team Rubicon as a way to help vets by offering them additional training and, most importantly, a chance to continue feeling worthwhile while coming to the aid of people in need.
I had the opportunity to speak with Joshua Maverick Webster, Team Rubicon's Director of Personnel and Readiness, in Los Angeles, where he currently lives. I was impressed by his relaxed self-confidence and eloquent, heartfelt ability to speak to veterans' issues.
Born and raised in Long Beach, Joshua joined the Army at age 19. It was 1999: Bill Clinton was president and the nation was at peace. After scoring well on his entrance exam, Josh volunteered to be an Airborne Ranger. He spent the next two and a half years in training, graduating from Ranger School, remarkably, on September 11, 2001. He deployed twice with the Rangers and was honorably discharged.
Afterwards Joshua switched services and completed the training to become an elite Air Force Pararescueman, or "PJ". He also studied to be a paramedic; deployed to Afghanistan two more times; and graduated summa cum laude with a BA in history from UCLA. For the past year, he has been living off of money he's saved in order to volunteer full-time for Team Rubicon.
Joshua sees real value in Team Rubicon's model. The non-profit has deployed skilled veterans and medical professionals on a dozen international missions in the past two years, and all have met with success. In addition, they have harnessed veterans for several domestic aid programs, including disaster response to the tornadoes that hit Birmingham and Joplin, and flooding post-hurricane in Vermont. This Veterans Day, Team Rubicon is collaborating with Habitat for Humanity to repair homes of wounded vets across America.
Furthermore, Joshua greatly appreciates what Team Rubicon is doing for vets. "Veteran service is a big buzzword these days: 92% of vets say that they want to be involved in service to their communities. Also, veteran unemployment is ridiculously high. We've been flooded with positive responses to our organization. Vets are signing up saying, 'I'll do anything -- fill sandbags, chop wood, whatever you need. I just want to be involved in a mission and be around people who share similar experiences and have similar ideals.'"
Joshua's particular focus at Team Rubicon is on skill building. He is creating a system whereby volunteers will receive training in responding to wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, or other disasters based on the regions where they live, as well as earn paramedic certificates. These volunteers will be well equipped to become firefighters, cops, or EMTs. Team Rubicon's specialized disaster-response teams will making its volunteer force more employable, mission-focused, and ready for whatever happens in their areas.
I asked Joshua to share his feelings on being a veteran. He gave this deeply moving response: "When you've spent as much time in the military as I have, you learn that people have certain expectations. They expect you to be very conservative and Republican, to not be smart enough to have gone to college, to be poor and inarticulate, and to have PTSD and be unemployable.
"I end up explaining time and time again why none of that should apply by default to anyone in the military. If you make the mistake of stereotyping every military member, then you'll be missing out on what he or she could teach you about life, about war, about victory, and about loss. We are a wonderfully unique and powerful generation, and we make up just 1% of the country's population. Most of us have been deployed five to 15 times overseas, but we usually don't ask for anything from anyone. I don't want you to feel sorry for me. I don't want you to assume that I'm screwed up. We are genuine people who have been working hard carrying the weight of this conflict on our backs for 10 years. People usually want to ask us questions about the war, and I welcome them, but let's try to ask them as if you were talking to a friend and not a press secretary.
"Also, most of us are dedicated to a life of duty and service. That's why Team Rubicon makes so much sense. It's the closest people can come to doing their military jobs as civilians."
I wondered how Joshua deals with fear and stress in chaotic situations. He laughed. "It's easy. It's just your job. You can either freak out or go back to your training and start thinking in a systematic way: stop the bleeding, check the breathing, stabilize circulation... When you're in the thick of it, you don't think about anything else. You're just too damned busy to be afraid."
Joshua's grin grew wider. "I'm a big believer that most people are capable of acts of heroism, even if they think that they aren't. Once you're taught something and you know how to do it well, you need to just get out there and do it. Don't sell yourself short."
If you'd like to take action of behalf of our nation's veterans on this Veterans Day, Joshua suggests that you please consider donating to Team Rubicon. Also, help spread the word about the organization to other vets. Getting involved in service after returning from active duty can help vets build job skills and find a renewed sense of purpose in their lives.
Photo by Brittany Smith