For Air Force veteran, challenge trumps comfort

By Ken Olsen

(Copyright 2012/All Rights Reserved)

Nicole Green walked away from her secure six-figure salary at a Washington consulting firm for a far more austere and uncertain future at Team Rubicon.

That says everything about the quality of people the veterans group attracts, not to mention Green’s dedication to helping veterans find a meaningful place in the civilian world.

“She would rather have something that gives her purpose,” says Joshua Webster, Team Rubicon’s personnel and training director, who Green is replacing as he returns to active duty with the Army. “It’s amazing we have people willing to do that.”NIcole in Joplin

The decision was easy for Green.

“Team Rubicon has given me a much more tangible sense of accomplishment,” she says. “It’s given me a peer group I didn’t realize I was missing as much as I was.”

Green had plenty of other options. An Air Force Academy graduate, she served as an intelligence officer in Iraq early in the war. She left the military in 2006 and taught English in Russia while earning her master’s in diplomacy with a focus on conflict resolution. Green then moved to Washington to work as a management consultant for Deloitte Consulting.

“She’s the type of person you look at and think you’d never be able to afford to hire because she’s so intelligent, successful and accomplished,” says Jake Wood, president and co-founder of Team Rubicon. “Fortunately for us, Nicole has a deep passion for Team Rubicon and our mission. She’s willing to sacrifice some of the comforts afforded her pedigree to join our team.”

Green is like a lot of the talent Team Rubicon attracts. Army veteran Matt Pelak volunteers as the group’s field operations director when he’s not working as a firefighter/paramedic in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., or serving with the National Guard. Dan Fong, a Denver-area firefighter/paramedic field instructor, donates his time as a regional coordinator and counts himself lucky to be able to work with a rapid-response effort even though he has no military background. Dr. John Sutter volunteers as chief medical officer between shifts at a hospital in Bethel, Alaska, and a homeless clinic in New York City.

“Everybody I’ve met in the organization is trying to do something outside of themselves and outside the norm,” Sutter says. “I believe in the mission, and everybody I’ve met along the way is going to be a friend for life.”

Like many people, Green’s connection to Team Rubicon involves the late Clay Hunt – one of the group’s original members. She met Hunt and Wood during a veterans lobbying week on Capitol Hill in 2010, soon after they returned from Team Rubicon’s first Haiti mission.

Pelak recruited Green after Hunt, haunted by PTSD and depression, killed himself in late March 2011. “At Clay’s funeral, Matt walked up to me and said, ‘You have a level head. You are good in a crisis. You should join.'”

Nicole Green clearing debris after a tornado ripped through the Joplin, Mississippi area.

Nicole Green clearing debris after a tornado ripped through the Joplin, Mississippi area.

A month later Green was part of the team’s response to the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Ala.,followed almost immediately by a mission to the tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., area. Next came Hurricane Irene on the East Coast.

“It’s a call to action that immediately engages every veteran,” Green says. “It gives them a purpose, a focus, a sense of pride. They tell me, ‘This gives me a reason to be proud to be a veteran.'”

This story appeared in conjunction with Mission Possible — the story of how Team Rubicon was born in the midst of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. 

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About Veterans' Voices

Veterans Voices is produced by Ken Olsen, a freelance writer and author who frequently writes about military families and veterans issues for national magazines
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