It’s been 7+ months since I jumped in with Team Rubicon at MOBEX Trigger and I’ve still not recovered (not sure that I ever will and I’m OK with that) so I don’t know why I thought giving myself a week to recover from NatCon was going to make a difference. But my head is a little clearer than it was a week ago and I’ve (mostly) caught up on sleep so I’ll jump in and see if I can manage some kind of recap. 

First off, it was fantastic! From a logistical standpoint, the venue was perfect, the programming was solid, the guest speaker (General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) was wonderful, the food was amazing, and the company/people were good for my soul. The weekend could not have been any better. The Hilton Anatole was an incredible setting - probably one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in. I didn’t get a chance to experience their lazy river or swimming pools but the garden area was beautiful and the amenities were quite luxurious. My room was nice…I think. Can’t say I spent a lot of time in it. I’m sure my roommate thinks I’m nuts, but I didn’t go to Dallas to sleep. Not including cat naps, I racked up an impressive 7 hours of sleep over 3 nights. But that was my plan going in so it wasn’t a big deal. Thankfully the kids had Monday off from school so I was able to sleep until noon and catch up a little.

My experience in Dallas was similar to my first Milbloggers’ Conference. I spent the majority of the time in Dallas just soaking it all in. I felt like the world’s biggest sponge and all I could do a lot of the time was just…BE. It was twofold: I was over-the-moon happy to be back with my regional team. In many ways, we’re a family and this was a wonderful reunion. On top of that was the conference itself, and just the idea of being in the room with all of these people I admire the heck out of - who do so much for so many and are rock stars in their own right - was enough to overwhelm me. So I spent a lot of time just soaking it in. I watched. I listened (two ear holes, one mouth hole. I tried to apply that ratio to how much I listened versus talked). I tried to commit everything to memory so I could go back and relive it later. 

And I knew I was going to do this. It’s how I process things so none of this came as a surprise. I knew I wasn’t going to engage as much as I would have liked this first year. I did better than I expected and met/talked to a bunch of new people, but there are so many more I want to connect with so that’s my goal for next year. However, next year will probably hold a different challenge in that I expect the organization to have grown significantly, which means that next year’s convention will be even bigger (and the possibility exists that I will not be invited - I wasn’t actually invited this year. Instead, I was standing in for one of the regional managers that couldn’t make it). So who knows? 

There are a lot of big, structural changes coming and a lot of uncertainty as they are rolled out. No one really knows what the actual secondary and tertiary effects will be and a lot of things are up in the air. Some people are really stressed about this, which is completely understandable. It’s hard to avoid stress when the parameters you’re use to functioning under are either shifting or dissolving. Change is tough and I’m the first to admit that. I don’t do change well and it makes me all panicky. However, the team I work with…I’ve never had the privilege - and it is truly a privilege - to work with a team that felt more like family than this group of people. It overwhelms me on at least a weekly basis and sometimes more. If any group of people can make it through these choppy waters, it’s this group.

Just today, I was brought to tears by someone saying something as simple as ‘Welcome home’. Silly but profound, all at the same time. For so long - most of my life, to be honest - I’ve rarely felt ‘at home’ anywhere other than in my own home. And, being a military spouse for so long (and being rather transient as a college student before that), even my own home felt foreign a lot of the time. As a kid, I never felt completely like a city-dweller, even though I lived in SoCal but I also didn’t feel like a country kid. In school, I didn’t have a particular group of friends that I specifically identified with. I was blessed to have good friends but they were spread out across different social groups and I never really fit in completely with any of them. Same goes for college - I was usually on the periphery. Ditto for my time as a military spouse. 

And then I find TR. And I find these people that have my back - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually - in every way a family should. And they let me have theirs. That feeling is POWERFUL. Overwhelmingly powerful. It brings me to my knees if I dwell on it too much, and I’m not sure if it’s the fact that they have my back or that they let me have theirs, because that is an honor in and of itself. To be needed like that, outside of my own family, is fulfilling and humbling. 

And the more I ponder all of this and dig into why all of this is so overwhelming to me - this concept of family outside of blood - I realize that part of it has to do with the fact that I am unfamiliar with it simply because I have never served in combat and never really been a part of a team or an organization where these kinds of bonds are formed. So it’s new and intoxicating and wonderful. I’m sure I’ll find a balance at some point but for now I just kind of revel in it and do my best to put that momentum I feel to use. It oozes out of me at times and I’m not used to that either but I’m getting there. 

The conference itself was good - lots of TR Kool Aid, as it were. Not so much of a ‘leadership’ conference in that there wasn’t much in terms of leadership development. I would have liked to have seen that but the weekend was chock full of plenty of other useful information and experiences - functional breakouts, ‘speed dating’ with topics like ‘CEO/COO Q&A: Culture, Mission, & Org Strategy’, ‘Comms: Story Yelling, Tattoos, & Brand Friggin’ Standards’, and ‘Membership: What’s Your Safeword?’. All of these had little nuggets of wonderful information embedded in them, particularly for this newbie. 

The welcome dinner Thursday night featured guest speaker and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph F. Dunford. He was a riot and did not disappoint. The hope is that, when he retires, he will don a grey shirt and join us. I suspect he will. 

...my TRibe...
I think the best part of the entire weekend was the people - the ones I already knew and the ones I was privileged to meet. TR has a fantastic online presence and being able to faces to names was great. And the time spent with my regional people is always time well spent. I Also got to take my first Uber ride and that was really cool as well. I convinced them all to try Korean food and that was a raging success. We sang songs at a piano bar, some of us rode elephant statues.

It was a good weekend. I miss them all already and can’t wait to see them again in a few weeks for our Regional conference. 


Eight years

I was going through some boxes in the basement and stumbled across a letter my dad wrote me back in 1995. It was random...and rare. He didn't write me many letters but when he did, they were always a glimpse into his mind. Having moved out at 18, I didn't get a chance to talk to him as often as I would have liked so the letters he did write to me were a sweet treasure.

It's been 8 years that he's been gone. Eight years. How does eight years feel like eight days sometimes?

Heading to Team Rubicon NatCon soon and I'm grateful. Being surrounded by wonderful people who do incredible things, planning to do even more incredible things in 2017 will be good for my soul. And rather than stuff this all down and gut it out alone (as is my want), I've stepped out of my comfort zone and given a couple of good friends a heads up so that if they see me wallowing too much, they can kick my butt and get me out of my head. Hopefully I will be having too good of a time for it to be an issue, but it's good to know they are there if I need them.

I dread this week each year but this year, I'm going to do my best to revel in the changes that are being wrought in my life because they are the right changes. They are good changes. And I feel like I am on the right path. Finally.

My father would be pleased and that is what I will focus on. I do so miss him but I am oh so grateful for the time I had with him.


When I was a child...

I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone

I can remember my first panic attack in first grade. My mom had taken me to school and dropped me off and by the time first recess rolled around, I was a mess. I couldn't breathe. I felt scared and anxious all at once. I felt like I was going to fall through the ground into an undersea ocean with the ground closing up around and above me as I drowned. So I went to the school nurse and told her I felt sick. She called my mom and my mom came and brought me home where I felt safe.

I never explained any of this to my parents - I couldn't. I didn't have the vocabulary to do so. My panic attacks were infrequent and I could never discern a pattern or a trigger. And I assumed that everyone dealt with them in some form or another so I saw no need to say anything. I learned coping mechanisms for when they did hit and pretty much forgot about them in between.

When I was in my early 30s, I remember listening to either my sister-in-law or a friend describe what a panic attack feels like and it was like a light switch was flipped. So THAT was what I had been dealing with off and on all my life! Panic attacks. It was weird to put a name to something that had been nameless for so long.

They are still pretty infrequent. Most of the time, I can anticipate them - they are usually a result of too many stressors in my life. For instance, the one that nailed me in 2013 was as I was buying my house...by myself. MacGyver was in Korea and I was doing the single parent thing, buying a house, scheduling a move across town, and scheduling a move from Kansas to Korea. It made sense. The one that nailed me last week came out of nowhere.

People keep telling me I have a lot on my plate and that's somewhat true, but not really. I stopped working at the end of July. I'm going to school full time but my classes are only a few days per week. The material is somewhat review. Swim season hasn't yet really started back full swing. I'm loving my work with Team Rubicon. I have wonderful people surrounding me. My family is good. It made no sense. And it's those panic attacks - the ones that sneak up on me and make no sense - that really do me in. I can still feel the effects of this one. I'm still shaky. I can feel that if I isolate myself (as is my want) I will slip right back into it. The ones with no discernible cause are the ones that scare me. How do you defend against something like that?



This week kicked my butt

I was trying to explain to a good friend of mine what a panic attack feels like. After I set aside the momentary jealousy that resulted from the fact that he's never (to his knowledge) experienced one, I tried to put words to how it feels. And I failed miserably. How do you describe a panic attack?

You know the scene in Star Wars where Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewy are in the trash compactor? It's like that, but have it start filling rapidly with water. And have the music above playing loudly, to the point that it's suffocating.

That's a reasonable description of how my week went this week. I thought it had been since 2011 the last time I had a big panic attack like this, but in looking back through this blog, I find that I had one when I bought the house back in 2013. That one made sense. This one did not. This one came out of the fracking blue and knocked me on my ass. 

The ones I can see coming tend to be pretty short-lived. They are situational and my rational brain can wrap around them and hang on to the knowledge that they are simply a reaction to a current stressor. I can usually just ride them out, knowing this too shall pass. But this one...oh, this one kicked my ass. I never saw it coming. I had an inkling but, by the time I realized it was more than just momentary stress, it was on top of me and I was drowning. 

I don't take meds (maybe I should?) for any of this, primarily because they are so few and far between. So my coping mechanisms usually involved the following:
- prayer
- exercise
- talking with a few trusted friends
- writing
- distraction (reading, watching movies I know will make me laugh and distract me)
- sleep

NONE of that worked. Well, some of it worked but not enough to completely head things off so I just had to gut it out for the most part. It's mostly past but now I feel like a wrung out wet washcloth. A friend of mine that was kind enough to talk me through some of it said I did a good job of pushing through it. I don't see that - I feel like a big giant mess - but I'll trust his perspective more than mine right now. Thankfully I have a few people in my life that have walked this road themselves and can help me talk through it when it happens. But man, I'm wiped.

I still can't point to any one thing as to why this panic attack happened. The one back in 2013 made sense - I was days away from closing on the house, my husband was overseas and we were planning to join him, we had big life transitions taking place. But this one? Not so much. I know I have a lot on my plate but life has actually slowed down a bit now that I'm not working. I have more free time (maybe that's what contributed? I didn't have a bunch of stuff to keep me busy so I wound up inside my head?) and I'm doing things I love.

Whatever. It's done and I'm almost back on my feet. Hopefully it will be another 3+ years before another one hits me. Wouldn't that be nice?


I do have a life...

...outside of Team Rubicon, I swear.

Life is moving along. The kids are doing great in public school. I'm not sure if I talked about that in previous posts. The Boy decided last year that he wanted to try public school. We've always said they are welcome to discuss a change with us in terms of schooling/education. So he started last year. This year, The Girl waited until *THE* last minute (seriously, 17 hours before the start of the school year) and then decided she wanted to give public school a go. So I jumped through various orifices of my body to make that happen. Thankfully, the school's administration was incredibly accommodating and she's off and running. Well, maybe not running. Swimming. She's swimming.

EMT class is going well. We had our 2nd test the other day and I should get my score back today. I'm not as confident about this one as I was about the last one - I wound up at the Kansas Emergency Management Association (KEMA) conference last week and didn't have as much time to study as I had planned. That will teach me to procrastinate. The practical stuff is coming along well. I'm loving trauma assessments and looking forward to getting more into that side of things. We're starting to schedule our ride alongs as well.
UPDATE: score a 74/60 with the extra credit. Without it, I would have still scored a 'B' - decent but not up to my standards. 

MacGyver is doing well at school as well and should be approaching his 2,000 hour mark soon. At that point, job possibilities (medevac, primarily) open up and we should see some movement on that front. He's busy flying and studying for trig and working his butt off.

The KEMA conference was enlightening. I went as a way to learn what our county emergency managers actually do, the challenges they face, and what they might need from us (Team Rubicon). In addition to all of that, I learned that this might be something I am interested in pursuing and a natural progression of my work in EMS. There is a local community college that offers an associate's degree, but I have a BS already so I'm thinking I may explore a Master's instead. We'll see. Whatever path that takes will have to come after paramedic school.

The trees are starting to change colors, even if the temps don't reflect that it's mid to late September. Today we're supposed to be in the 90s with a heat index of upward of 100. But the trees sense fall coming and are starting to show it. I'm not ready. I love fall but I hate wearing shoes and I don't like being cold. I'm already longing for spring. I'll get over my pity party in a bit.

That's about all I have. October is going to be crazy busy - between swim meets starting again, CERT class, school, ride-alongs, TR stuff, and family life, the month is nuts.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.


Veterans Community Project

One of the things that Team Rubicon does in its down-time (yes, there is such a thing) is get involved with community service projects, particularly (though not limited to) projects that positively impact the veteran community. Doing so helps us maintain the skills necessary to be effective in a true disaster response operation as well as allowing us to engage our membership and keep them connected to our community.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of heading east to Kansas City with TR to help clear some land for the Veterans Community Project. The VCP is an organization whose mission it is to house homeless veterans in transitional housing in the KC metro area. They acquired a large piece of land that was overgrown and this weekend's task was to begin clearing the land in order to build 'tiny homes' on the site. In addition to the homes, the site will have counseling, mentoring, case management, and other social support to help homeless veterans transition back in to society. It's an amazing concept and the people behind the project are just as amazing.

Early in the AM, before the saw crews arrived.
Look at all of the overgrowth up along that northern property line.

This weekend's work involved not only Team Rubicon but also The Mission Continues, Team Red White and Blue, 2x4s For Hope, Wounded Warrior Project, two different VFW posts, and several other veteran support organizations. The goal was to fell trees (great work for our kick-ass sawyer teams!) and clear underbrush (got to learn how to use a Brush Hog) to get the land ready for the tiny homes to be built. Along with that work, the VCP took delivery - escorted by KCPD! - of a semi-truck load of 2x4s from 2x4s for Hope. They had all been signed (after people paid $3 donation to do so) by people across the midwest in support of our veterans.

2x4s For Hope

I have to brag on TR a bit. A lot of this project came together rather quickly and our leadership (not me - I just showed up to work) handled it beautifully. Everyone was so well taken care of and they were able to get SO much done. When I first arrived on site, there was only one other TR member there - our guy running the show. The people from the other organizations were a little skeptical of our capabilities, but once all of our people showed up and our teams got rolling, they were a force to be reckoned with! I lost count of how many trees and limbs they dropped but it was easily in excess of 25 over a 5 hour period. The goal they set for us was to get done with the north side of the property as well as work our way down the west side to where some conex containers were set up. We not only did that, we were able to get an egress path on the south side of the property cleared per city requirements. Our teams knocked their socks off. It was amazing to watch.


Over the course of the day, we had several media organizations show up - both print and news media. Here is a sampling of what it looked like:

Kansas City Star (story forthcoming)
and there are several videos on the VCP Facebook page

We also had several new people show up which is always wonderful. Included in that was the guy that called me last week, worried that he did not have enough time to give to TR. He was amazing and, because of a Facebook message he sent to KCMB, the VCP was able to garner additional press about this amazing project.

Here are some more pictures of it all:

Lunch break safety brief.

2x4s For Hope

Model home plus 2x4s For Hope

Brandon had WAY too much fun in this thing. But he also got a LOT done with it while doing so!

Look at how clear that northern property line is now!
Bryan, Kevin, Brandon, Chris - Veterans Community Project

This weekend was good for my soul on so many levels. To watch these different veteran service organizations come together to help out their brothers and sisters and have such a positive impact on the local veteran community (and possibly the national veteran community, given that several other states are watching this project closely) is inspiring and humbling. Every time I think I can't love TR and the veteran community more, they prove me wrong.

On a personal level, it was partly frustrating because I am not yet Sawyer certified so I feel like I did a lot of standing around, holding down dirt. I was clearing brush early on (and found out I am *not* allergic to poison ivy. Yay!) but wound up holding safety for our sawyer teams. There were a lot of people doing a lot of things and having someone inadvertently wander into the drop zone or cutting area while the saws are working is a very bad thing so I understand the need for adequate safety. It was just frustrating to stand there and watch everyone work their tails off and not really be *doing* anything.

I'll rectify that soon. Can't wait to work with these people (TR and everyone on the VCP project) again soon!


Do what you can, when you can

I received a phone call from a TR member today regarding an upcoming event. They were interested in helping out but apologetic over the fact that they hadn’t had time to commit. Basically, they didn’t want to give TR the "short end of the stick". 

Here’s the thing…I have one of the lowest TR numbers of anyone I’ve met. My TR# is 0001244. But I don’t put that out there to brag. 

I put that out there with this perspective: I signed up with TR back in May of 2010, after William McNulty came and spoke at the MilBlogger’s Conference in DC. The milblogging community had been supporting TR from the moment Jake posted about going to Haiti on his blog. I believed in the mission, and hearing Will speak about TR sold me so I signed up immediately. 

And then it took me SIX years to get my shit together enough to do anything other than be a TR cheerleader (seriously, National…can we get some TR pom poms in the TR store? Please?). I didn’t do a single TR-related event for six years. With an active duty husband whose op-tempo was insane combined with living on a medium-sized turd in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I was essentially a single parent of two small children very far away from any kind of support system or extended family. There was no way I could swing anything other than cheerleading. 

But then, one day, I could. I managed to eek out time to get up to Omaha and participate in MOBEX Trigger. And it was great. I was hooked. Then we had an op in Eureka, about 2 hours from me, and I managed to eek out a day (0800 - 2000) for that. And they welcomed me with open arms. I was able to go back for a 24-hour period to the same op a few days later as well, and I’ve been able to hit 2 socials here locally. Other than our regional conference, that is all I’ve been able to do. 

And it’s enough because it’s all I’ve been able to do. That’s the beauty of Team Rubicon - they’ll take what they can get and be thrilled that you’re there to help. Nothing more. No expectations of anything beyond that. We are an organization of 35K+ who have full time jobs, full time families, full time lives, and yet a desire to continue to serve. It’s often a struggle to maintain the balance of family/work/school, let alone time to take off and muck out houses or haul debris or cut up trees or go to foreign countries and care for refugees and displaced persons. 

We get it. 

We’re right there with you. My regional leadership team faces the exact same struggles. We have people that work 60+ hour weeks. We have people that have little people at home, counting on them. We have full time students. We have people that physically aren’t in a position right now to take off to Louisiana and lend a hand, no matter how badly they want to. Very few people are in a position to truly serve in the capacity they wish to serve. 

We get it. 

No apologies necessary. Do what you can, when you can.

- hfs

P.S. On my TR bucket list: Meet Harry and give him a big hug. (see video at top of post)