Army Reserve Lt. Col. Mike Gorham felt like he was in airborne school, standing in the door of a C-130 and knowing that he had to jump.
“There’s that fear, and you’re just frozen,” he said.
Except this time, Gorham wasn’t acting as an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan or a company commander in Iraq. He was participating in the Clay Hunt Fellows Program, a “peek behind the curtain” training program of Team Rubicon — a Los-Angeles based disaster response team whose 130,000 volunteers are almost entirely comprised of those with either military or first-responder experience.
Gorham, a former assistant military science professor and current Army reservist, first learned of Team Rubicon in 2013 and was eventually accepted as a Clay Hunt Fellow.
The fellowship equips veterans with tools to redefine their purpose and self-identity out of uniform for a life of continued service through a six-month curriculum of personal growth and discovery, according to Team Rubicon’s website. After a series of “normal” corporate jobs following his active Army days, Gorham was on the hunt for an occupation with deep meaning and fulfillment.
“I was immediately drawn to the duel mission set [of Team Rubicon], which is helping communities during disasters while building camaraderie and giving that sense of purpose again to vets,” said Gorham, a former construction manager and professional sports executive. “That drew me as well.”
The program’s self-discovery component intrigued Gorham in particular, and he soon realized his passion for public service. When a job at Team Rubicon opened up in 2016, he pounced. Today, he holds the title of the organization’s deputy director of territory operations in the Southwest.
Gorham is in charge of a five-person staff overseeing disaster response coordination for California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. If there’s a wildfire in California or hurricane in Hawaii, Gorham’s team is tasked with coordinating objectives like damage assessments, debris management, home repair and even emergency medicine.
“I’m an infantry guy, so the idea of getting out into adverse situations, into these dynamic communities after an earthquake or hurricane where chaos is reigning — that appeals to me,” he said.
Photos of Gorham’s time with Team Rubicon show him working with fellow “Greyshirts” (what Team Rubicon calls their staff and volunteers) as they travel to stricken locations, clear homesites, operate around heavy machinery, interact with locals and attend trainings.
“There are lot of parallels between the military and Team Rubicon,” Gorham said. “It’s the same sort of structure and camaraderie and bias for action as the military, but we try to cut out as much red tape as we can. Our mantra is that everyone is a Greyshirt first, then after that you’re a strike team leader, or supervisor, or whatever.”
Gorham works full-time for Team Rubicon from his Northern California home, in addition to his position in a training unit with the Army Reserve. Each job knows that the other could need him at any moment, meaning that if it’s disaster season, he might be unavailable for the reserves. If it’s time for Annual Training, meanwhile, Team Rubicon takes a back seat.
Gorham appreciates how his two careers give his three children front-row seats on the importance of service.
“The whole purpose of the military is similar to Team Rubicon; you’re there to assist others in their time of need,” he said. “My kids get to see that through my actions, but also through opportunities where they can actually participate [in Team Rubicon projects].”
Gorham regularly encourages veterans to join Team Rubicon’s volunteer corps. Beyond mere social activity, he says, Team Rubicon provides something former military members still need: a continuation of their calling to serve others.
“[Veterans] are already suited for this sort of work, already trained and adaptable in chaotic situations,” he said. “The world is so crazy right now — if not us serving others, then who?”