Vlad Gonzalez knows a thing or two about tropical storms, hurricanes, and their aftermath. Growing up in Puerto Rico, he lived through one or two nearly every year as a child.
So in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Gonzalez, a former U.S. Marine and graduate of USC Marshall’s Masters of Business for Veterans program, organized a volunteer effort to drive a large truck on Labor Day weekend that was packed with food, water, and much needed supplies down to one of the worst-hit parts of Louisiana.
“This is the true American spirit—we see our brothers and sisters in need and we help them out,” he said. “We lend them a hand.”
He didn’t do it alone. Many organizations and volunteers from the community, including Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization and a partnership with the Kissimmee Police Department, The Osceola County Sheriff Department and the City Mayor were key to a successful deployment. “One of the biggest things I learned while in MBV was to use and work your network,” said Gonzalez, who is today a quality engineer at Lockheed Martin in Florida.
Marshall’s MBV program launched in 2013 with the aim of helping active or retired military leverage their leadership skills to segue into corporate jobs. Gonzalez was a member of the 7th cohort, and landed his dream job at Lockheed Martin in part because of skills he learned in the program.
“The MBV taught me how to interview and negotiate,” he said. Studying with other veterans created a bonding experience he’d missed as an undergraduate, since he attended after his military service and was older than typical students. “The MBV experience was something I’ll never forget,” he said.
And this time, he had a reliable truck. Because this wasn’t his first supply truck effort either.
In 2017 Gonzalez was living in Los Angeles, watching helplessly as Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain onto Houston. He was inspired to take action.
He chokes up when he recalls pulling into a church parking lot lined with people, their homes flooded, with no food and precious little water.
“One man told me, ‘We were waiting for a miracle,’” he said.
He and volunteers distributed supplies. They’d also brought with them cards from donors, expressing words of hope and solidarity. “People broke down,” he said. “It was a powerful moment.”
Anyone who knows Gonzalez isn’t surprised to hear he’s behind such efforts.
“As long as I’ve known Vlad, he’s been a hands-on kind of leader, the kind that doesn’t wait to be told what to do,” said James Bogle, Director for the MBV. “These are the qualities that guided him into the United States Marine Corps and toward selection to serve in the Marine Helicopter Squadron One. Even in class, Vlad was a sort of spark plug within the cohort. The first to volunteer, the first to organize a soiree, the first to lend a hand.”
With hurricanes only likely to get worse in coming decades, Gonzalez hopes people will copy the model of people helping people. “I would like to see the Orlando truck for Louisiana, the Miami truck for Louisiana, the Jacksonville truck for Louisiana, and so on.”
“People are so grateful that you show up to help,” he said. “The fact that there were people from 700 miles away who care that much is so much more powerful than any bottle of water.”