When the rain started, they didn’t think much about it.
“Hey it’s a bit of rain. No big deal,” they said.
But it became a very big deal as Hurricane Harvey flooded the Houston area, with some areas receiving 50+ inches of rain, leaving thousands of residents stranded without basic necessities.
This group of friends, mostly military veterans, reacted the way soldiers, marines, and airmen are trained to react.
“The team quickly realized there’s people who need help,” explained Zachary, an engineer officer veteran and current National Guard member.
The leader, a former Marine nicknamed “Jarhead,” called everyone and said: “Gear up.”
Just Some Regular Guys
Using their skill sets and networks, these vets began reaching out to neighbors who needed help or who could offer help to others—bringing them together.
“We had the boots on the ground,” Zachary said. “We had the skill sets, and we had the assets.”
And that started a chain reaction that’s turned their efforts into an informal group they’ve dubbed the “Regular Guys.”
They all have family, friends, full-time jobs and their own personal lives. But they dropped everything to help—some coming from other parts of the county and using vacation days to volunteer.
The veterans started working in their own neighborhoods to help people who were stranded without the ability to evacuate and needed a way to get to the emergency resource points in the area. Jarhead organized a dedicated team to help coordinate and streamline the rescue missions.
It started with boat crews, which rescued people who were unable to leave their homes safely in rising water and get them to evacuation points.
With multiple veterans on the team who’ve had years of experience in coordinating various operations for the military, the group foresaw the need for distributing supplies and other essential aid as necessary to those that were displaced.
“It’s turned into contacts of contacts of contacts,” Zachary said. “We’d get random phone calls, and I still don’t know how they found us. Everyone’s poured so much heart and effort into it. Not one of us could have done this by ourselves. It’s a group thing.”
Don’t Send a Marine to Find a Warehouse
Hurricane Harvey continued to lash the area with rain for days, forcing more evacuations and continuing the destruction. The group of vets and volunteers quickly realized they needed to tackle some operational logistics, a challenge even under normal circumstances.
“We sent a Marine out to find a location to store incoming supplies to run convoys to neighborhoods. He came back with part of hanger and an airstrip. He taught us you don’t send out a Marine for a warehouse, because he’ll come back with an airstrip,” Zachary joked.
The airstrip came in handy as volunteers helped distribute supplies via air. Another major warehouse served as the main truck depot and distribution point. In just two days, the group distributed 150,000 lb. of water, plus food, personal hygiene products, and other supplies. When a gracious donor provided 80,000 lb. of high-quality protein shakes and bars, the vets got the food to the people who needed it in just six hours.
The group remembers their excitement when they received their first donation of supplies, which amazingly was only about two weeks ago.
“It was about half a garage worth of stuff—probably eight cases of water, a giant package of toilet paper and paper towels, and some MRE boxes,” Zachary said. “We thought we are going to help Houston. Looking back at it seems so long ago with how quickly this team has grown into something larger than any of us could have imagined.”
Helping others in a time of crisis is something that came naturally to the veterans in the group.
As Zachary explained, “The motto of the group became ‘Every one of us has taken an oath at one point. The oath didn’t end with retirement.’”
Embrace the Suck
The group, which comprises approximately 90% veterans and 10% volunteers (mostly with military-related connections, like family members), includes many people who were facing their own flood-related challenges. But they still helped out others in need.
“In the military, we call that ‘embrace the suck,’” Zachary said.
“Their houses were flooded, and there was nothing they could do about it. But they could help others who needed help. In the military, you’re always getting some stupid mission or crap detail like moving sandbags in the rain, and you make the best of it. You make it fun. That’s how you get through it.”
A New Mission
Houston is home to many veterans, not to mention a large medically retired veteran community. The initial group of friends met via an online social networking group created for veterans, first responders, and like-minded people to meet up, socialize, have a drink or two, and talk.
Veterans are far more likely to suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and suicide—and reconnecting them to their community helps with recovery.
While a natural catastrophe like Hurricane Harvey could possibly trigger symptoms, the “Regular Guys” found the chance to do something to help others actually helped many of the vets cope and find purpose again.
“It was almost therapeutic,” Zachary said. “This gives them a mission again.”
After one particularly long day, the vets and volunteers took a few moments to sit, have a drink, and simply talk—and laugh.
“The next day one of us commented that it was one of the best times she had in a long time,” he said. “She didn’t mean just because we’ve been busy the past couple days. She truly meant that was the best time she has had for a long time before this endeavor too.”
Shift to a Massive Cleanup
The group’s effort continues as the water recedes and people are faced with a massive cleanup effort.
“Everyone needs cleaning supplies,” Zachary said. “Now they’re going home and seeing the destruction. So, we’re trying to team up with other organizations to move into clean-up operations.”
Some of it requires donations of a different sort—bleach, cleaners, tools, masks and other items to help rebuild. But there’s also a need for hands-on help, particularly for people who can’t do it themselves.
“Our mission is to find the 92-year-old man whose home was flooded. He can’t clean that up himself. So, we’re finding people to help,” he said.
And Zachary is confident the group can handle the daunting task ahead as their communities recover.
“Don’t ever challenge a group of veterans,” Zachary said. “We’re going to win.”
Contact the Regular Guys at firstname.lastname@example.org.