When November arrives in the Midwest, it doesn’t knock, it kicks the door down. October’s soft breezes and warm hues give way to Lake Michigan’s cold winds of change, revealing an empty canvas for winter. On the rural outskirts of Kalamazoo, Michigan, harvested fields welcome deer and the migratory flocks of Sandhill Cranes. The mosaic of American flags in these rural parts are paintings of generational pride and honor. For Kimberly Ann Cheesebro, this is where she grew up. This is where she raised her daughters. This is her community that she so much loves and serves.
There are over 22 million military veterans in this country and Kim is one. Calm with glass-blue eyes, you’d peg her for a 3rd grade teacher before you would a veteran. Her father, a veteran of Vietnam; her brother, Jason Scott, a decorated Army veteran, serving in Somalia and Haiti; her Mom, a high school teacher before raising the two. “I watched my parents always give,” says Kim, uneasy discussing herself. “In our upbringing, we weren’t taught or told we had to serve and give––it’s just what my parents did.”
Kim enlisted into the United States Army in 1992. A different path then her childhood dreams of a nurse or social worker, but her inherent desire to give – no less. “I just wanted to help in any way I could and serve my country,” Kim reflects. In the Army, Kim was a Behavioral Science Specialist, developing and implementing treatment plans for psychological testing and social work. She helped placement programs for veterans of alcohol and substance abuse. She assisted military families in need of counseling and support. As the conflicts in Eastern Europe unfolded in the early 90’s, Kim and her team were sent to monitor and evaluate soldiers exposed to the mental traumas of combat. The frontlines to better understanding and diagnosing PTSD were also being fought and won.
Retiring from active duty in 1998, Kim entered the medical field, while still serving in the Army Reserves. Today, she is a Level 2 Medical Secretary and a Certified Medical Assistant at a regional hospital. Like so many of America’s veterans, Kim’s return to civilian life was met with personal challenges: the call to serve no more and the separation from her military family a feeling of hallowed loss. Fortunately, as Kim was searching for more new ways to donate her talents, the new and mobilizing organization of Team Rubicon was searching for veterans just like Kim.
Team Rubicon, formed in 2010, is an international non-government veteran service organization that uses disaster response and humanitarian projects to help reintegrate veterans back into civilian life. In just 8 years, it’s exploded to over 60,000 staff and volunteers, handling disaster relief, humanitarian missions and human services for local communities. Kim, along with her brother Jason, are both active and remarkably dedicated members and volunteers. Jason first joined Team Rubicon in 2015, first supporting local projects. The love of service for his country rekindled, he deployed with Team Rubicon to Houston for Hurricane Harvey relief and aid.
Now, he has risen to the State of Michigan Operations Manager. “We like to say, disasters are our business, veterans are our passion,” says Jason, he himself affected by PTSD. “It’s been the best therapy for me. I don’t know where my life would be without Team Rubicon and its family. We get so much more than we give. ”
Kim is the Kalamazoo City Administrator for Team Rubicon. As a volunteer position, hour after hour each week is spent building and supporting the local network of Team Rubicon; new volunteers are recruited, partnerships with other relief organizations are formed; disaster relief plans and practices are continually sharpened; the smallest of needs still get her greatest attention. All this, from a desk off her kitchen, her dog, Dex, at her side. “She’s the glue that holds it all together,” her proud brother, says. “Team Rubicon is able to deploy and do what we do because of people like my sister, Kim.”
When not responding to natural disasters, Team Rubicon units dedicate themselves to projects in their local areas, like counteracting urban blight in a major city or partnering with Habitat for Humanity to construct or remodel homes for those in need. It both serves the communities and gives Rubicon the opportunity to train and educate new Greyshirts (a nickname representing the iconic grey Team Rubicon t-shirts). No better example of this was this past summer when Kim and her team lent assistance to a WWII veteran, Joe Bada, and his wife, Barb, in the town of Niles, Michigan.
The Bada’s were in need of repairs to their post-war home but didn’t know where to turn: fixing broken front porch steps, replacing the tile on the bathroom floor, fresh paint on the garage. Simple repairs––less simple for a man in his 90s. Their need was brought to Kim’s attention and she acted immediately. On a Saturday Kim and her team brought a home back to life, and a quality of life back to the Bada’s. “We still talk about the job they did every day,” Barb smiles, clutching her husband’s hand. “We are just so thankful for her.”
Seeing Kim’s relationship with the Mr. Bada, you see the true strength of the military and it’s family. It’s human strength. The honor and unwavering respect for those who served before. “The hardest part for me is when I have to stop helping,” Kim admits, her tone almost apologetic. “There’s a point people have to learn to rely on the community and our mission is over. It’s hard, especially with our veterans.”
The light of another day begins to fade and draw to an end. Another day one woman set out to change the world –– and change a few lives. Outside, those November winds still won’t rest. Inside, neither will she.
To help support Team Rubicon and our veterans, please visit: https://fundraise.teamrubiconusa.orgor if you are in need of assistance with PTSD, or know someone who needs support please visit: https://www.ptsd.va.gov.