Jamie Havig was about to redeploy. The Navy combat medic put on his headphones, blasted the volume and tried to ignore the plane's bouncing descent.
"I've been on a lot of flights where I was being shot at and landing in really hot zones, but this one made me nervous," Havig said.
This time he was landing in the middle of a storm at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York. Havig is a veteran who served two tours in Iraq attached to a Marine sniper team. It's where he picked up his nickname, "Doc."
The 35-year-old now lives in Irvine and works for the nonprofit Team Kids.
But on Nov. 7, just as the nor'easter was hitting the East Coast days after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc, he was working for Team Rubicon.
Team Rubicon is an emergency-relief nonprofit staffed by veterans. When a disaster hits, highly trained volunteers who honed their skills in war zones respond by flying in from across the country to help in any way they can. Their goal: be the first on the ground.
"We are the best at organizing chaos," Havig said. "We're up and running and responding within minutes."
Havig talked about his mission with Team Rubicon like he was back in the service, and he described the scene on the ground in much the same way too.
"It seriously was a disaster area, like a war had just happened there," he said, describing the aftermath of Sandy's massive flooding, high winds and fires. "Almost like a nuclear sand bomb had just gone off."
Until he returned Wednesday, Havig spent long days with other veterans organizing groups of 20 to 30 civilians.
They assisted any way they could, taking work orders submitted by Rockaway residents at Forward Operating Base Hope to shovel sand, tear out ruined drywall or haul broken furniture.
"The owners would just sit there watching the whole thing in tears," Havig said. "It was a sad sight, but at the same time, if we weren't there helping them, nothing would be done."
At the end of the day, the vets on Team Rubicon slept in a rock-climbing gym a fellow Marine found for them.
"We don't stop when we're tired. We stop when the job is done," Havig said.
He refused to pass up the chance of helping in New York.
"I don't ever want to be the 'I-should-have-done-something' guy," he said.
He was that guy once in Iraq when an injury stopped him, Havig explained.
"Medically, I couldn't have went on, but it still haunts me that I wasn't there," he said.
Havig's motivation is twofold. He is the program director at Team Kids, and he returned to Irvine with a mission to inspire.
Over the next few weeks, he'll speak to students in assemblies and events, explaining that they can make a difference.