Vic Mevo served six years with the USMC and tells us this story about participating in disaster relief efforts with Team Rubicon, the rapid deployment emergency response organization founded in 2010.
I grew up on Long Island in a town where everyone knew everyone. And everyone knew that I was hell-bent on becoming an Air Force officer. And then everyone was confused when on a random Tuesday during my senior year, I enlisted in the Marines Corps.
I honestly can’t tell you why.
No one in my family was in the military. But my dad had been NYPD during his entire career and had been a first responder on 9/11. I had a desire to help out my community, and this was the best way I thought I could. A day after I graduated, I handed my diploma to my recruiter. A day after that, I was in basic training.
I served six years in the Corps in a Communications Battalion. I trained in microwave radio, single-channel, and satellite comms. My job was to keep people connected both stateside and on deployments.
My last trip overseas was a combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Noble Eagle. All of the training I had done in the years leading up to the deployment came into play. It is the best feeling in the world to have spent years learning how to do a job, and then be relied upon to do it. There were times when I’d be the only person who could get a system up and running to deal with it. There’s nothing like the feeling of being invaluable, especially in a situation where combat operations depend on your expertise.
That was the pride I took in my work. Knowing that because of me, guys out there could talk to each other. They could know where the enemy was, and they could be situationally aware. That was my contribution.
When I left active duty, I felt like I was no longer contributing. I came home depressed, missing waking up every day and seeing my buddies, and having somewhere to go and a mission to complete. I’d learned all these great communication skills, and upon returning home, I just felt lost.
Plus, my wanderlust hadn’t escaped me at all. I still wanted to get out in the world and do things that mattered. I heard about a veteran’s organization that volunteered in disaster areas around the world, so naturally I wanted in. And so in the spring of 2015, I signed up with Team Rubicon.
In May, I received a text message asking if I wanted to deploy. A deadly outbreak of flooding and tornadoes had struck Texas and Oklahoma. Overnight, the Blanco River had risen over 30 feet, destroying towns and claiming several lives. 24 hours after getting that text, I was on a plane from New York, with the goal of helping a bunch of strangers I didn’t know alongside a bunch of veterans I didn’t know. Being on that plane was a great feeling. I wasn’t even on the ground yet, and I already felt that sense of belonging coming back. That sense of being invaluable.
Within two minutes of meeting the TR guys in Texas, someone tossed me the keys to an F-150 Super Duty and I joined a convoy to a staging ground we’d set up at a middle school. It felt like being back on deployment. Here I was, a complete stranger, in the middle of nowhere, with other strangers, yet we all instantly bonded and without hesitation got the job done.
Shortly after arriving to the FOB, I was given a schedule of events for the following day. It was to be going to a “full muck out.” We went to sleep in the school gymnasium on military-style cots and rested for the next day. For 16 hours, we worked tirelessly shoveling mud, gathering belongings, looking for survivors, and working hand in hand with property owners, some of whom had lost everything. The feeling of mattering, of being of use to people who needed me started to come back to me.
You have to ask yourself … what if it was your home that got swept away? While I was overseas, it was a little easier to disconnect myself from the circumstances people in other countries went through. But this was my country. These were Americans. I remember one guy whose house was right on the river bank, and it was completely destroyed. We found him standing in his driveway waiting for us, a shovel in hand, ready to get to work. I admired his courage.
Some people couldn’t handle it. Some of the flood victims we met were so emotionally damaged that they couldn’t even be around us while we worked. They’d need to just disappear and seek out some emotional help. I couldn’t blame them. It made me wonder how I’d react if my home and my life was completely swept away.
We took chainsaws to fallen trees and cleared roads. We cleared away the wreckage of homes. We worked with local authorities and working dogs, locating survivors or bodies among the rubble. It was a tough experience, but one that I’ll never forget.
After returning to camp on some nights, we’d put up the designated Team Rubicon beer flag, and tossed back a few cans. This was our opportunity to decompress. After a day spent helping people rebuild, it was the only thing you could do. There was a moment when I basically broke down, but in a way that felt healthy. I was back doing something that mattered, with people alongside me whom I’d not even met a couple weeks prior, and they understood me.
As long as you display the morals and ideals of wanting to make a difference, you’re welcome in a place like Team Rubicon. It makes sense that “GET SHIT DONE” is one of the group’s most popular sayings.
It was that mission that gave me the drive to re-enlist. I’m currently in the Air National Guard working for a para-rescue unit, where I provide radio and computer support to jumpers. If it wasn’t for Team Rubicon, I probably never would’ve made this decision. I still have the drive to do work that matters, and I look forward to the next opportunity.