This story originally was posted at Team Rubicon on Nov. 5, 2018. Null Gravity’s Co-founder and Chief Photographer, Jonathen E. Davis, was Team Rubicon’s public information officer and photographer after Hurricane Michael caused devastation in the Florida Panhandle in October 2018. As a veteran himself, Jonathen was able to have the veteran in this article share his personal story and give a glimpse of his life that he would not normally share otherwise. The article posted here has more photographs that tell more about this veteran’s situation after Hurricane Michael.
“We’ve got to get to higher ground!” Homeowner Bralyn Clenne, 23, reached for his girlfriend as he noticed water starting to seep underneath the front door.
In the back of his mind was the thought of his near-drowning accident that occurred several years ago. He reflected that he had been lucky that his father had been there to save him.
With the water continuing to rise and starting to flood his home, Bralyn pushed back the fear and flipped a switch in his head.
“I went into military-mode,” said Bralyn. After finishing high school, Bralyn enlisted with the Army National Guard as a 91-Bravo, Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic. Bralyn kept his Army Combat Uniform hung on his wall as a reminder of the importance of his time served.
But at that moment Bralyn thought, “I didn’t really even think about my life, I thought about hers.” Bralyn’s girlfriend, Krystal, was suffering from bronchitis and they decided it was better to leave their house for her safety. “I don’t know what’s out there, but I know we can’t be here,” said Bralyn.
With a clear, personal mission in mind Bralyn escaped his house with Krystal’s hand in his own. ”At that point, I didn’t know what or where I was going except to go uphill,” explained Bralyn.
Fighting the torrential rains and hurricane winds Bralyn and his girlfriend struggled and managed to get only 200 yards uphill from his home before seeking shelter.
“We made it to someone’s front porch and braced ourselves in the midst of this hurricane,” said Bralyn. ”I held [Krystal], protecting her from any flying debris that could make it our way.”
They hoped they had found temporary refuge, but Bralyn and Krystal heard the crack and snap of a tree falling across the street.
“It crushed the neighbor’s car,” said Bralyn. “Just boom, crushed it.”
The homeowners who owned the car went outside and saw their vehicle under the tree. Bralyn waved to them and yelled out for help. However, they ignored them, the homeowners retreating back into their home.
“We were sitting there thinking, ‘we are over here dying; we’re here freezing’,” described Bralyn. Several hours later the hurricane’s immense power began to subside, allowing Bralyn and Krystal to make their way back slowly home. Soaking wet, they arrived back at a home with no power a factor which concerns to Bralyn. Still, in his military mindset, he told Krystal that they need to warm up.
“We were freezing, with all the wind blowing and all, I said to her that we were going to catch hypothermia,” explained Bralyn. ”We got out of all our wet clothes and I found all the blankets I could find. We huddled up in my bedroom for the remainder of the day.”
The next day, Bralyn was able to truly see the extent of the damaged his home sustained from the hurricane. Two massive trees were on top of his home. Windows in his living room blown out. Water damage throughout his house. Debris covering his yard.
“What the **** am I going to do,” said Bralyn. Bralyn is the type of person who lives day-by-day and does not have the funds or the insurance to help restore his home to its former glory.
Without any answers, for now, he looks back at his Army uniform still hung on his wall and thinks about how to serve. The only thing Bralyn can do was to help his neighbors. “There was nothing I could do for my house, so I might as well help people that could use the help,” reflected Bralyn. Then, he got to work.
A few days passed and Bralyn sat in his room playing his guitar as to a way to cope with everything that has happened. He then received a text message from his sister who explained that she had found a group that could help Bralyn.
“This is the message actually,” said Bralyn as he showed his phone’s screen. The text message read: Honestly, these people are a non-profit and will do free tree clearing, cleanup, and tarp work.
Accompanied by the text message was an image of a business card with the name “Team Rubicon: Disasters are our business. Veterans are our passion.”
“We need all the help we could get,” said Bralyn. As a veteran, he understood the need to serve, and to find an organization that uses veterans to help others, he jumped on the opportunity to receive help from Team Rubicon.
Bralyn gazes at his uniform that hangs on his wall and compares Team Rubicon and military service, “There are people that get up every day, still put on that uniform and serve our country. It’s the same idea with Team Rubicon.”
A Team Rubicon strike team showed up the next day to assess the house and what noted what needed to be done. They knew the house was heavily damaged but knew they could help.
“This was going to be an amazingly technical and difficult job, but I thought we had the right team there for it,” said Jodi Moyer, a Team Rubicon volunteer. “This gentleman has been through quite a bit and any help that he could get from us he would appreciate it.”
The Greyshirts set out to work on the difficult task of tarping the roof of Bralyn’s home, working around the two large trees that would be too difficult to remove for even an experience sawyer team. “We gave him time. Time to figure out what to do next,” said Jodi. “I know he’s even said everything is going to take time and money [which he doesn’t have at this time], but at least we were able to give him time.”
“I wish there were more services like [Team Rubicon] out here. There are many people around here, including me, that cannot afford to get trees off our houses,” explained Bralyn. ”I never expected you all to be able to get the [two] hundred-foot pine trees of my house, but the tarps you put on my roof might save my house.”
Bralyn is reminded of a dog tag he received when he entered the National Guard that had not a name, but the acronym LDRSHIP.
“Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage,” said Bralyn. ”The people of Team Rubicon follow those same traits, it’s really a beautiful thing because nobody thinks of anybody anymore.”
Jonathen E. Davis is a co-founder and chief photographer for Null Gravity Media. Since leaving the U.S. Navy as a Combat Cameraman he has since been a disaster photographer for the non-profit Team Rubicon. He is an avid steward for our oceans and an outdoor enthusiast.