In Service, Finding Soul Food
Deploying with Team Rubicon recently I found true soul food—or, food for the soul. But, what is food for the soul? Let me give you just a little taste:
It’s community: This is the powerful thing that drives Team Rubicon Greyshirts to the heart of disasters. The external community, in the heart of disaster, is full of homes devastated by Mother Nature’s strength. It is Miss Elly—an 80-something-year-old lady living on a small piece of property with her husband, a proud retired Air Force veteran of 35 years who has dementia—who couldn’t get out of her driveway because a 150-plus-year-old oak was sprawled flat across it. It is Miss Regina, an elderly woman who lives in the family home built by her dad way back when that is now covered with trees blown down by Hurricane Sally. Those same trees are scattered throughout her yard limiting her access to her home. And, it’s Joe, a Vietnam veteran who served proudly during the Tet Offensive in ’69, then continued his service with the Coast Guard in Pensacola, FL, for many years after. His yard became known by all of us as Jurassic Park, thanks to the 14 huge trees that had fallen when Hurricane Sally hit. Joe and his wife had no way of removing those trees on their own. Getting help would have cost them many thousands of dollars.
So, for these homeowners and hurricane survivors Team Rubicon and its Strike Teams, composed of people from all over the United States and Canada, came together. We tirelessly tackled the cutting and shifting of trees and tarped and cleared houses of debris day after day—and out of that the Team Rubicon internal community bonded.
Greyshirts know it as the TRibe: a bond formed during hard physical work every day, for many hours, under demanding conditions. It is community of many different people, from many different walks of life and many different situations and circumstances, with one thing they have in common: A heart to give and to, like we say, Get Sh%t Done. This common goal and purpose shatters barriers and creates a safe space where conversations lead to individual healing. It is two very different Greyshirts talking about night terrors they both experience but for very different reasons, not being judged or feeling weird. It’s the Marine reliving stories of his time in Fallujah, Iraq; it’s the 50-year-old Army veteran talking about his upbringing and about being kicked out of the military because he is gay.
These conversations come out around the campfire after just a few days of being together, as Greyshirts usually deploy to disaster areas for one week—sometimes two—at a time. It’s truly amazing to see a community built in such a short amount of time.
And then there’s the teamwork. It’s funny that after 23 years in the military and serving with some of the greatest warriors of this generation, I saw teamwork at its best in a charitable organization of volunteers who come together for just a very short time, which they spend driving around together to find out exactly what the community needs, or heading out as a four-person strike team made up of sawyers, chainsaw operators, and swampers, the debris removing packing mules who take all the cut tree trunks, branches and limbs to an area where they will be removed by the local authorities.
Or, maybe it’s a tarping team, made up of people who will place what is meant to be a temporary tarp on a damaged roof with so much skill and care that it will most likely last for years to come. And then there’s the muck out team, which comes together to clean out a home that has been destroyed by water. For muck out teams, it’s not unusual to spend days removing dry wall, saturated insulation, damaged furniture, household items, and flooring in an attempt to make the house livable again. What these teams achieve on a daily basis is unbelievable, especially given that they most likely have never worked together before.
It’s purpose with a common goal. The purpose is clear, every Greyshirt goes on a disaster relief operation to help out in any way they can. The common goal is just as clear: Get Sh%t Done, or GSD. Greyshirts live by this and strive to do it for the duration of their deployment.
So, what is food for the soul? It’s the feeling you get from helping others on their worst day. It’s what comes from working with an amazing bunch of people who share common values, and are driven by a clear purpose and an obtainable goal, striving collectively to GSD.
Tim Wedesweiler is a veteran of the Australian Army and Canadian Armed Forces. He lives in Petawawa, Ontario.