Sunday, May 24, 2015

Combat veterans with a mission

In the wake of Hurricane Iselle, Team Rubicon members conducted damage assessments, chainsaw operations, and debris removal in concert with civil defense agencies and fellow NGOs in the Puna District of Hawaii to support affected residents. Courtesy of

A veteran of the United States Air Force (WAF), I served in peace time in the late 1950s, and I've been known to joke now and then about the usefulness of the skills I mastered in the military once I returned to civilian life: marching, saluting, cleaning the fixtures in my bathroom until they gleamed, polishing my shoes, etc.

Combat veterans have a different story to tell, and they're less likely to joke about their military service – far from it. This Memorial Day weekend, Americans would do well to read Ken Harbaugh's article in the Atlantic titled: Taking Off the Uniform, but Retaining the Drive to Serve.

Harbaugh is the chief operations officer for Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization that redeploys vets as disaster-relief volunteers and helps former troops find meaningful uses for their skills. He writes:

It is four o’clock in the morning. The cot on my office floor beckons. But this place is bustling. In the ready room next door, the medical team will soon be assembling. Cal Verdin, a former Army paratrooper, checks gear and reviews the latest damage reports from Kathmandu. The recon team is already en route to Nepal, and will touch down in a few hours. Another will follow tomorrow, led by Bob Obernier, a former Navy corpsman turned firefighter. Since Saturday’s massive quake, there have been dozens of aftershocks. Over the coming days, waves of military vets and first responders will touch down near the epicenter. My job, here in Los Angeles, is to get them there safely, with medications, satellite phones, and water purifiers. 

When I was a Navy pilot, sleepless nights and pre-dawn briefings were part of the deal. I led a combat-reconnaissance crew and deployed around the globe. Now, the wars I helped wage have wound down. Americans are eager to move on. Most already have. Yet for the two million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, another battle looms. Some struggle to re-enter society, to build a life among civilians who cannot fathom what they have seen and experienced. They are viewed not as assets, but as damaged goods. However, the vast majority of returning vets are highly trained public servants determined to continue serving their communities and their country.

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