Under the hot North Carolina sun, an impressive team of veterans gathered this weekend at the Tobacco Road Harley Davidson in Raleigh to load up two giant trailers with relief supplies bound for Louisiana. In a coordinated effort led by the United States Veterans Corps, their seasoned Rescue Response Team had boots on the ground in Louisiana well before Hurricane Laura made landfall, ready to head into high water areas in a truck they’ve aptly named Goliath. As soon as the storm passed, they were officially deployed.
By the time we caught up with them, Army and Navy veteran Leonard Harrison aka Country was on his third trip down with Goliath, riding alongside his buddy Dale and a dog named Al, hauling a trailer full of supplies. He said: “We’re gonna make sure we get them what we need and then we’re gonna get back to our lives and do what we gotta do cause from what I can see in the Atlantic, we’ve got four more storms brewing. This one was the most intense I’ve ever been through. It was a whole different beast.”
Harrison says he didn’t expect to need snorkel gear for this rescue, but they hit water as high as seven feet and Goliath is equipped for five on a good day. He’s got the gear on order. “The craziest thing is, I found out that I get seasick. That’s why I left the Navy after three years when they offered everybody the early outs, yet I’m always going to the ocean to fight hurricanes, so go figure.” You could call that an achilles heel transformed. As we sign off, he says: “I lost the connection I had with serving my country when I got out of the military. I was really bummed to not be able to finish my career and I feel like I’m serving my country this way for the last four years. So it means something to me.”
It means something to quite a few. Back in North Carolina, USVC director Andrew Ladner had just sent a second team down the road to Louisiana and a third bound for Savannah to pick up more supplies and meet them there. It’s a lot to juggle, but he said, “We’re used to that type of work anyway in the military. We’ve done disaster relief with our organization all the way back to Hurricane Andrew, and active duty Reserves or Guard, we’ve all been trained in disaster relief. In the military you’re used to sleeping outside or getting wet. In fact, there’s a line that says: ‘If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.’ It’s grammatically incorrect, but it’s the truth.”
USVC started when Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune veterans volunteered for ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Operation Coming Home. Together with members of Home Builders Association, they built and donated a brand new Hero Home for a disabled combat veteran. The operation was a success and the group recognized their mission was lifelong. They’ve since built 21 houses, Ladner said, “We’re on house 22 right now; this house is for a widow and kids of a fallen. He died last September in combat operations.”
As Iraq War veteran Jon Turner told us earlier this year, serving in combat is mission-driven and community-centered. USVC’s work is certainly evidence of this. “The thing is, we have to do multiple things at the same time,” said Ladner. This week he’s running point for a possible fourth team to head down to Louisiana and then he has to figure out how to dispatch four routes for week 25 of their Food Run Friday food bank with all his vets deployed. Something tells us it won’t be a problem. The organization holds two Guinness World Records, one for the most toys collected in a one day drive — they donated over 50,000 pounds to children of deployed or low-income troops, and one for the largest 24-hour food drive in the world — operation Rescue Ruck, providing food for US military and first responder veteran families in need. Collectively, they have volunteers from every US military branch, as well as military spouses, military BRATS, ROTC, and foreign allied military, and many grateful civilians.