Going Back For Seconds

I had the opportunity to rejoin my Greyshirt friends down south for some more tornado recovery work this weekend and I am so grateful for it. Given that this was my first real 'op', it was great to see how it evolved. There were a lot of moving parts in all of it as well as a few monkey wrenches thrown in for good measure.

The day after I was there the first time, the Incident Commander's mom had a stroke and the she had to return home. That left someone else in charge and there were a lot of adjustments that had to be made on the fly. One thing I'm finding with TR is that, while there are SOPs in place and we do, for the most part, adhere to FEMA standards and protocols, that really only governs the BIG picture. How each IC handles the day-to-day and minute-to-minute tasks is pretty much up to them (taking into consideration the team with which they are working and the individual styles that may be in play). Some people are visual and like graphs and charts and whatnot. Others prefer the data and information to be presented in digital format. Others are verbal. What works for one may not work for all. So it was interesting to have left when there was one form of organization in place and to come back to find a totally different form of organization in place. And I saw the strengths of both.

Saturday was a busy morning spent doing some debris removal, waiting for the sawyer teams to work their magic and clear some limbs that were threatening our workspace - no point in laying a tarp on a roof only to have that tarp damaged by a limb that falls the next time a strong gust of wind blows through. I mean, it IS Kansas. Once they were done, we were able to lay a tarp on the roof where something had punched a very large hole completely through the roof into and through the ceiling inside. The homeowner was this sweet lady...we'll call her M...and she was just the nicest person. She explained that she and her pup rode out the storm in her closet. Thankfully she has a daughter that lives in a nearby state that was able to come and get her following the storm so she had been able to avoid most of the chaos as the town started to clean up.

Once we were done there, we took care of a few loose ends and were heading back to the FOB when we passed some of our teammates that told us they were on their way out to do a quick damage assessment on a property outside the city limits that had sustained significant damage and had not yet received much in the way of help. He (the homeowner) had just found out about us and was asking for our help. Did we want to come along? Of course we did. We drove for a good 15-20 minutes and then crested the hill where the damage lay.

It was breathtaking. The swath the tornado craved was probably 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide and stretched for at least 2 before it lifted and then bounced southeast into town, skipping over the rolling Flint Hills. This gentleman's house had been standing there since the early 1900s and the only thing left after the tornado came through was a commode. Everything else was gone. Pieces of the siding and roof were wrapped around trees that had been twisted and spun and broken like blades of grass under my lawnmower. The devastation is indescribable. Even on video, it's difficult to grasp the magnitude of loss. And this was just ONE property. I've listed to the TR people that were involved with the Joplin, MO recovery and that one involved hundreds, if not thousands, of structures. This was just one house, but to S (the homeowner) it was everything. He was holding up really well but you could tell that the shock he must have felt in those first few days was giving way to a weariness that he was feeling in his bones.

It was overwhelming to look around and see so much devastation. Where do you begin? Thankfully, the homeowner, his brother, and his niece had already been making impressive headway, given that there were only 3 of them. But it was time to call in the reinforcements. We had a high school group and a Boy Scout group on the ground that would be able to lend a hand in terms of manpower. And S, the homeowner, had solid plans for where debris should go and what he was going to do about it. That helped immensely.

What was left of S's house.

What it did to the trees was mind-boggling.

Saw teams gearing up to work.

Debris removal.

Praying with the STEM team from Wichita, the homeowner, and his family, as the day wraps up. 
We beat feet back to the FOB, passing a local swimming hole on our way (I'll write another post purely about that later) and grabbed supplies and lunch. And water - lots of water. 90°F and 75% humidity...it was HOT. By the time we got back, we had lost the Scouts but came to find the high school student group hard at work. They were like ants - work, work, work, form lines, carry, etc. They made quick work of the majority of the debris. Once our sawyer teams arrived, we were able to make good headway on getting a lot of the vegetative debris taken care of. And then it was time to go. It broke my heart to walk away without being done. But the consensus was that we may not have been able to get it all done but what we did was good.

In the end, the Op wound up being extended one more day in order to give the teams time to wrap up some loose ends on work orders and spend some more time helping S at his property. I'm looking forward to hearing how the extra day went as I had to head home after dinner. Dinner was great and we were able to present the county emergency manager with his first official TR greyshirt. He took time away from one of his jobs (not only is he the county EM but he also runs a tree-trimming business in town and had his own saws and bucket truck which was a HUGE blessing for us!) to help us out and I can't tell you how grateful we are to him. He is also my newest state TR recruit!

The one thing that really struck me in all of this is that people would thank me. And, while I get that and appreciate it and do my best to accept it gracefully, what they don't realize is that being involved with TR and helping people out gives me SO MUCH more than I give to them.

My heart is full.

Full beyond measure.

- hfs


Better than starving

I popped my op(eration) cherry yesterday with Team Rubicon and drove south to help out with the beginning stages of Operation We Found It! down in Eureka, Kansas. Eureka was hit with an F3 and and F2 tornado on the same night as the Dallas police shootings. Over 50 homes were damaged or destroyed in this little town and they are just beginning to get the work done.

Here are my thoughts...

So many things to ponder and chew on from yesterday. What a difference between Trigger and this op. Aside from the obvious - Trigger was a training event, hundreds of people, partnership with HFHO, etc., and this was an actual disaster response operation. My approach to it was different. My perspective was different. My involvement was different. But the results are the same - it fed my soul. It fed my heart. I was where I needed to be at that moment. 

I learned so much. Made me feel ALIVE. Useful. Purposeful. 

Recently, the topic of feeling ’safe’ versus feeling ‘comfortable’ has come up in a few discussions I’ve had with people. I don’t feel comfortable in too many places. If I had to put a number to it, I’d say 10, maybe 15  tops if we’re naming specific friends’ houses. Ask me to number the places I feel SAFE and that number comes down to 3: my home, the pool deck (I am in my element and bulletproof), and with TR. Feeling safe, for me, comes from a combination of things: feeling competent and in my element, and knowing that the people I am with have my back. If I don’t have those two things, I might feel comfortable but I will not feel safe. Every time I’ve been involved in anything TR-related, I’ve had both of those things. 

Being able to add something to that incredibly short list of safe places just feels…sweet. When I was in labor with my daughter, the hospital wouldn’t admit me just yet because I wasn’t dilated far enough. They told us to go walk so we went to the Commissary (it was Fairbanks, Alaska…there weren’t too many places to go if you’re a woman in labor). We wandered the aisle and wound up at the deli in the back. It dawned on me that I was hungry - SO hungry - so I ordered a sandwich. Black forest ham with provolone and this pineapple mustard relish spread. And it was THE BEST SANDWICH I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. No sandwich before or since has come close to measuring up. I remember every bite, every taste, every flavor. It was perfect and I was SO hungry. That is how ‘finding’ TR has felt - like it was the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life!

When my husband was deployed back in 2006, I had some health stuff going on and was wickedly anemic but didn’t know it. I was exhausted all the time - bone-achingly tired, no matter how much I slept. I looked awful. I felt worse. I couldn’t get my brain straight. I felt like I was walking around with a bowl full of water over my head. I’d forget things that shouldn’t be forgotten - appointments, closing the garage door or the car doors and leaving them open all night long, etc. But I had no clue. I just thought I was tired from being a single parent of two little kids. When I finally went to the doctor, they determined that I was so anemic that I needed a blood transfusion and to be hospitalized. I refused the hospitalization (no one I trusted to watch the kids) but they got things under control and it was only then - once I got healthy again - that I was able to look back and see what a disaster I was. It scared me. Deeply. I was responsible for a 3 and a 5 year old and I was only functioning at 30% of my normal, if that. I operated a motor vehicle with my children in the car. I’m still surprised I didn’t forget a child somewhere or worse. It rocked me to my core and still worries me. I didn’t see it until I was on the other side of it.

Looking back at the past few years of my life - prior to whatever switch it was that got thrown in my head a few months back where I started actually LIVING my life again rather than just kind of slogging my way through it - I realize I was pretty much back to where I was in 2006. Anemic. Exhausted. Listless. I couldn’t get my brain straight. Do you remember in "Back to the Future" where Marty is on stage, playing guitar and, because George hasn’t kissed Lorraine, Marty is literally disappearing from the picture? That is (in hindsight) how I felt. And I don’t know what happened. I didn’t make any kind of conscious decision that ‘TODAY is the day and I’m going to start living again’. I don’t think *I* had anything really to do with it. Personally, I think God had enough of my listless crap and kicked me in the ass. I’m not complaining. But again, it scares me because I didn’t *see* it. I was in survival mode so deeply that I didn’t realize I was drowning. I was just putting one foot in front of the other but I was doing so while walking on the bottom of a pool.

It is insidious. It crept up on me. I never *saw* it coming. I never truly saw it at all; only in hindsight. What worries me is how do I defend against it and prevent it from happening again? I know part of the answer is to avoid isolating myself. I did a bang-up job of that when we left Hawaii. Leaving my ‘framily’ in Hawaii was brutal and my response to pain - physical, mental, emotional - is to turn inward - like the roly poly bugs I played with as a kid. Easy to do when you move to a new place. No need to make friends. MacGyver’s Army career ended so that eliminated that friend pool. 

Then we moved to Korea so I was able to walk away from the few friends we had here. We were planning on being in Korea for a while so I actually started making friends there. I let myself open up, connect with people, really start to lean in. It’s easy to do in Korea because the American population is so small and you’re away from your family, your country, everything you know and love. You HAVE to lean in and rely on the people around you. Then it fell apart and we were coming back to the states and that wound was ripped open again. So I vowed NEVER to uncover that wound again. And the easiest way to do that was to just isolate myself. So I did. And I did it well. 

But I realize now what a bad move that was. It set me up to starve, basically. And I was starving. I could literally feel myself wasting away like the people in the picture from Back to the Future. And then it was like someone placed a platter of delicious food - all the foods I love - right in front of me and now I’m feasting. I can’t get enough. Some days I feel like about to come out of my skin with energy and potential. Often, I don’t know what to do with it. It’s nice to have an outlet - be it TR, writing, hiking, swimming, jiu-jitsu, being on deck, and soon my EMT class/paramedic training. I think I’d explode otherwise. 

My biggest fear in all of this is that the carpet is going to be yanked out from under me yet again. There are a variety of different ways that could happen and I don’t want to list them or really even think about them. I don’t want to go back to square one. I don’t want to feel like I’m starving again. Ever. 

And I think the best way I can defend against this is to do the opposite of what is my nature (isolation in the face of difficult things) and surround myself with the people I care about most, outside of my family (I can’t seem to escape them no matter how tightly I ball up!). My inner circle, if you will. My friends were the ones that were there for me when things got ugly years ago - my family (outside of my immediate family) weren’t in positions to be of help. But my friends were there through the ugly. And I’m blessed to have the same caliber of friends now, so it’s time to lean in. Even if I’m terrified.

Which I am.

Pretty much all the time.

It’s a low-grade terror, not the kind I feel when driving over bridges. Just kind of emotional background noise. But it’s there. That confidence that people see in me (or arrogance, depending on who’s talking)? Much of it is true confidence, but some of it is to cover up that terror; to fool myself into believing that I’m ok. AA calls it ‘fake it till you make it’. Works for me. 

All the feelz. I have them. Lots of them. Usually they overwhelm me - I always feel too much of things - love, hate, happiness, anger, frustration, sadness, joy - especially in the beginning. You name it, it overwhelms me. But it’s better than starving.


Looking forward to fall

I have some big changes coming up in the next few weeks and I'm still trying to get a grasp on how it's all going to play out. When we moved back here, I was blessed to be offered a job running the front desk at our church. The money was good - it saved us in many ways - and the hours were good. The people I work with are incredible and the situation is flexible, which makes being a homeschooling parent and spouse of a full-time working student SO MUCH easier. Unfortunately, not easy enough. Juggling 25-30 hours of work per week (in that one job. I'm also coaching, doing closed-caption transcription, and holding down two three volunteer positions) with homeschooling one child, running the other to public school, taking kids to and from sports and activities, and trying to maintain the house just wasn't working. I'd been praying for something to give and it seems it finally is.

I go back to school in the fall and the GI Bill provides a housing stipend, which will thankfully make up for my loss of one of my incomes. Additionally, MacGyver has a few options for work that should pay better than he's making at the moment while he hopefully finishes up his flight training and hours this coming semester. So things on the financial front are looking to ease up just a wee bit - enough that I could tender my resignation at my church. 

It breaks my heart to leave. I truly love the people I work with. However, I am looking forward to reconnecting with my family, tackling the 'TO DO' list that has grown exponentially, and being able to give my schooling the proper attention it warrants. I am also looking forward to being able to devote more time to Team Rubicon, starting with our Regional Training that will be coming up soon. I can't wait to get to know my partners in crime just a little bit better! 

The rest of our summer will be filled with some fun stuff - we're going to go do SwimJitsu here shortly and I can't wait! I had seen the video for it about a year ago, and when I found out that one of the local swim clubs was putting it on, we signed up immediately! I think I'm the only adult/parent from our team that is crazy enough to try it. But if an 8 year old can do it, I think I'll be able to as well. 

Once I am done at work, we're going to knock a few things off the Kansas Bucket List - Cosmosphere, The Science Center's 'Body Worlds', Kansas History Museum. There are also a number of trails and state parks I want to go explore but I think I'm going to save those for cooler weather. Several of them are in the western 1/2 of the state, so I'm thinking we may plan a long weekend and go camp/hike/bike and check out several spots all at once. And there are swim meets and Scout activities and a few canoeing/kayaking adventures just waiting for us as well. Mixed in there will hopefully be good times spent with great friends.

With all of the challenges we've been dealing with lately, it's nice to look forward and be able to enjoy the summer!

I leave you with my current musical obsession, Hamilton. If I had a fairy godmother grant me one wish, I might just spend it on asking for tickets to go see this show. Tonight, as it is Lin-Manuel Miranda's last night with the show. 

- hfs


Something beautiful

Last week when I was up in Omaha and the bombing happened at the airport in Turkey, a good friend told me to stay blissfully ignorant just a little while longer and away from the news, and that about made me cry. I knew whatever it was that had happened was pretty bad, and the idea that someone would care to protect me from something like that touched me deeply.

I do so wish I could go back to that blissful ignorance today. Last night after wrapping up a conference call, I ditched the computer and the phone and walked the dogs, letting them run in the backyard while I sat in the hammock. It was wonderful and peaceful - the perfect end to an otherwise mellow and pretty relaxing day. Then I came in to fold laundry and flipped open my computer again to watch a movie while I did so, and I caught the news of both the Kansas tornadoes and the Dallas shootings all at once. Hit me like a brick - I have 2 friends that are DPD on top of the whole situation being just utterly heartbreaking - and all I wanted to do was go back to Omaha, sitting in that concourse, watching people, and being blissfully ignorant. It was an incredibly visceral reaction and it was all I could do to maintain my composure at that point (hard to explain to the kids why I’m crying while folding laundry…other than the fact that it’s one of my least favorite chores). 

Most days, I can keep my defenses up and very little of the world gets in. I’m a realist but I tend toward optimism because I already know the ending of the story. But every once in a while, those defenses slip. Like today. Today I am heartbroken. I need someone to show me something beautiful.

UPDATE: And there it is. Life will out. Humanity will always prevail.

- hfs



Back in early April, I took a leap of faith and headed north to participate in a joint training exercise/community service project with Team Rubicon and Habitat for Humanity Omaha. MOBEX Trigger was my first real foray into Team Rubicon and I had no idea where it would lead. Actually, I'm still trying to figure that all out. All I know is that I've found my tribe. That's really I need to know right now.

This past week, The Girl and I were able to head back up to Omaha for Olympic Trials and we had time between the morning and evening sessions to head over and check the progress on the house I worked on. And I was able to show my girl some of what I had been involved in and give her an idea of not only what kind of impact it had on me, but more importantly what kind of impact it (and everything that HFHO is doing in the neighborhood) had on the community.

When we were there in April, the tentative plan was to have the redo of the house complete sometime in late May. However our site lead, Mona, cautioned us that these old houses often have surprises waiting for the teams so that timeline was very fluid. And she was right. Here it is the end of June and progress on the old house hasn't gone as quickly as was anticipated - partly because of the house itself and partly because HFHO was really busy with their mission of completing FIFTY homes in the North Omaha area by the end of the summer.

The transformation in the area is remarkable. Just in the 2.5 months since I was there, the neighborhood's feel has changed significantly. What used to be empty, barren lots filled with brush and debris are now home to brand new homes with bright windows and wonderful landscaping. There were kids out playing everywhere and an energy present that wasn't as strong last time I was there. The transformation is remarkable.

The back side of the house. They finally peeled the LAYERS of siding off and got down to the bones.

The garage was on its way to completion.

The front of the house. That upper story and front porch were almost the death of us. Literally.

Back in April, we were given a tour of this house and, while standing in the upstairs front bedroom, you could see the slope of the upper floor toward the front of the house. As we're being given the tour, part of our crew was at work demo'ing the porch. Thankfully they didn't get very far. Come to find out, the upper floor/porch wasn't really support by footings of any substance - just the pillars that they had been working on with sledgehammers. Additionally, when the floors were torn into upstairs, it was found that, at some point, someone had poured CONCRETE into the floors - possibly as an insulation attempt.

All of that to say that, had our team actually succeeded in demoing the porch at that point, things would have ended poorly for us.

When all was said and done, they had to jack the upper floor up about 5 inches using three jacks - a 5-ton, a 3-ton, and a 2-ton (L-R in the picture) and even then, the 2-ton jack kept kicking out. Craziness.

But she's coming along nicely and Mona says they do have a family selected for this house. They didn't have a timetable for completion yet. The kids and I are going to head back up to Omaha at some point before school starts and hit the zoo. When we do, we'll make sure to swing by and grab an update!

Cool side note: one of the gentlemen that was working on the house the day we went by, and who gave us the 10 cent tour, is actually from the town I currently live in and still has family here. So the invitation was extended to have him swing by and at least say hi or sit down for a mean with us when he's in town next.

Small world! I love it!

Olympic Trials

I came about as close to experiencing nirvana yesterday as I think I've come in a very long time, if ever. The 2016 Olympic Swimming Trials are currently taking place just a few hours from my house. I cannot be this close and not go so I managed to get tickets for a day and The Girl and I drove up. The schedule for the day was as follows:

Morning Session (Prelims):
Women's 200m Butterfly
Men's 200m Butterfly
Women's 200m Individual Medley

Evening Session:
Women's 200m Freestyle (Semis)
Men's 200m Freestyle (Final)
Women's 100m Backstroke (Final)
Men's 100m Backstroke (Final)
Women's 100m Breaststroke (Final)
Men's 200m Butterfly (Semis)
Women's 200m Individual Medley (Semis)

It was quite a full day. We saw all sorts of big names swim: Michael Phelps, Katy Ledecky, Tyler Clary, Missy Franklin, and Natalie Coughlin. Just to be in the building with swimmers of that caliber was enough to about send me over the edge. I was like a 13 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

In addition to all of that - and even more exciting to me - was the fact that I was able to meet up with an old friend from high school. Mike was a senior when I was a sophomore and we both swam on the high school swim team - he just did it a hell of a lot better than I ever did! He's now the head coach for a Master's program back in SoCal and FIVE of his guys qualified for Trials. We were able to meet up briefly between the morning and afternoon session. I would have loved to have spend more time with him but I had a house to go check on and lunch to grab. More about the house HERE.

On top of all of that, I was also able to watch several swimmers from my former Colorado team swim in these Trials. That was also amazing in its own way - that team was a solid team when I was coaching there (not because I was coaching...just because it was a solid team) and to see what it is grown into and produced was wonderful.

The whole experience was simply amazing. I'm not sure I can even put in to words all of the emotions I experienced. It's a good thing I had a long drive home that evening - left me time to get my head straight.

The other side of it was that I was able to take my girl with me and watching her experience all of it was almost better than my own experience. Almost. It's really fulfilling to watch her fall in love with the sport I love so much.

The view from the mezzanine level.

Men's 200m Butterfly. Michael Phelps is in the red toward the center.

More Men's 200m Butterfly.

Aqua Zone had memorabilia from earlier Olympics.

American flag made from lane lines. And 66 states...

Left Shark!

Gary Hall, Jr. I was too impatient to wait in line for his autograph.

Opening of the evening session. Incredible light show.

A pillar of water with fire at the top. I am confused...

Traffic getting out of the lot was bad so we grabbed books and snacks and went down to the river to sit.

It was an incredible evening to just sit and enjoy.

I have been to Omaha twice in my life now and both times, I have left feeling so full. Not literally, but metaphorically. In April, I left after having spent 3 of the most incredibly fulfilling days of my life serving with Team Rubicon and Habitat for Humanity Omaha. I had found my tribe and I am still learning what that really means to me. This time, I left having felt more at home that I have in a very long time.

It was good to be home.

 - hfs


A Day Off

Today was a rarity - an actual day off. The Girl wasn't feeling well so she didn't go to before-the-crack-of-dawn swim practice and I have the start of a cold brewing so I opted to sleep in as well. rather than go to morning jiu-jitsu class. We have a big swim meet this weekend and I have a stupid packed week next week so I can't afford to be sick. Rest is my biggest (and most underutilized/poorly use) weapon so it was incredible to be able to do so today. As I am typing this, I've not left the property yet today and, if it weren't for my people demanding to be fed, thereby necessitating a run to the grocery store, I wouldn't do so until tomorrow.

I've spent the day catching up on some household chores, watching all six episodes of Mob City (which starred my current obsession, Jon Bernthal), chatting with friends online, keeping tabs on another friend whose close family members were killed and injured in a horrific car crash earlier this week, and reading. If it weren't ridiculously hot outside and if the rope holding my hammock to the tree hadn't broken (with me IN it!), I'd be out in the backyard reading a book. Need to pick up some more rope so I can set the hammock back up.

Now that my resume has been sent in, I can let the cat completely out of the bag with regard to Team Rubicon. I've been approached to be the State Membership Manager! I will be in charge of mobilizing our state members for operations as well as enhancing the membership experience through orientation, engagement, and administrative actions. I have no idea what all that encompasses but I'll learn. They are standing up MMs in each state within the region and, I'm assuming, in each of the 50 states if they don't already have one. I'll be working in conjunction with the Regional Membership Manager as well as the rest of the state and regional leadership teams.

I'm so freaking excited that I can barely contain myself! My family is SO tired of hearing the words Team Rubicon come out of my mouth :) It's not going to get any better. Sorry, peeps.

Time to go enjoy the fireflies in the backyard.

- hfs


Over the moon

When I finally got my act together and found room in my life for time to volunteer with Team Rubicon, I only ever envisioned doing ground-level work: what they call 'Strike Team' work. Mucking, clearing debris, hauling trash, throwing the occasional sledgehammer at a wall. I got a small taste of that up in Omaha at MOBEX Trigger a few months back and I loved it. I learned a ton and was able to work with some pretty awesome people.

I never envisioned anything beyond that level of engagement other than being the perpetual Team Rubicon cheerleader (seriously, TR, when are y'all going to stock a cheerleader's outfit in your store?) in real life and on social media. I mean, what more could a girl ask for? Hanging out with some incredible people while helping out those dealing with natural disasters - it doesn't really get any better than that, right?

Until yesterday when an email landed in my inbox that had me squealing and startling the people I work with. Parts of it read:

My name is XXXXX XXXXXXX and I am the Membership Manger for Region XXX. 
I would love to see you in leadership with Team Rubicon. 
I am telling you all of this, because I would love to have you on my team.  I would love to have you helping me engage our members, and help our members. 
Would you please consider applying for the XXXXXXXXX? 
To apply, send me your resume and cover letter.  Thank you for your consideration!! 

I about came unglued right there at work. They want me? To work at the state level for TR? Combining two things I am passionate about: military veterans and helping others? Hell yes! Sign me up! 

But I needed to take some time to talk about it with MacGyver and think it over. Summer time is ridiculously hectic in our family: early morning swim practice, jiu jitsu class for me, baseball, hitting the pool, work, work, swim meets, tackling our 'not bummer summer' TO DO list, etc. I can half-ass a lot of things in life but working with and for Team Rubicon is NOT one of those things. The time commitment isn't huge but it's still hours in the week I have to find somewhere. 

I sent my resume in this afternoon. I will sacrifice sleep or time at the pool or something in order to make this happen. 

I am over the freaking moon and thrilled to be considered for this. I've not done a single thing to deserve it but I will do my best to prove I am worthy.

- hfs