It was one in the afternoon on Monday, Aug. 28th when rugby player Paul McGiffin’s phone began buzzing in his Lit Trad class with Dr. Stryer.
He stepped out to take the call. He was going to Houston.
“It was unexpected because the hurricane had hit a few days earlier, so I assumed they already had all the help they needed, but it turned out they needed more,” McGiffin says.
It was the first time since McGiffin joined the National Guard that he had been called in to serve, and the first time his unit had been called in since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
His journey began with a two-hour trip north to Wichita Falls.
“After meeting up with my team and gathering all the things we would need from Wichita Falls, we made our way down to Houston,” he said.
His unit ended up staying at a school right outside of Houston in Katy.
By the time he arrived, the water had begun to recede, revealing the ruin the storm left behind.
“It was mostly houses that were submerged at one point in seven to eight feet of water. All the neighborhoods had front yards filled with insulation and furniture, or anything they owned that had been in the lower level of their houses,” McGiffin said.
McGiffin spent a week and a half making sure affected residents were secure and helping people move destroyed belongings out of their homes.
“We were there as a reassurance for people who were of goodwill and a deterrent for people who weren’t,” he said.
Despite everything that the people of Houston had lost, McGiffin was in awe of the generosity that people showed him and his unit. Staying in a school gymnasium, many soldiers slept on the floor. To make them more comfortable, the people of Katy gathered air mattresses, pillows, blankets and snacks for all of them, so that by the end of McGiffin’s time there it felt as though “they were helping us more than we were helping them.”
Restaurants also donated to entire units and often people that would see them in restaurants would pay for their meals.
“We didn’t pay for anything while we were there, McGiffin said. “Everyone was so generous.”
After his service in Houston was done, McGiffin made his way back to Dallas. He knew that he would have a lot of catching up to do academically, but was comforted by the encouragement and understanding of his professors.
“Everyone was very helpful and willing to work with me, especially Dr. Andrews, Associate Dean of Students. When I emailed him saying I would be missing school, he immediately emailed me back and asked if there was anything he could do to help. It was comforting because with UD’s strict attendance policy, I could have technically been kicked out of all of my classes.”
“We wanted him [McGiffin] to be able to do his job without having to worry about was going on here,” Dr. Andrews said. “He had enough on his mind, I’m sure, and we wanted to look at all the options we had to help him out.”
When McGiffin isn’t worrying about school or serving, he’s on the rugby pitch. He didn’t plan on playing but said that, “being a big guy causes you to stand out at parties, so I was approached by several members of the team and constantly asked to go to a practice. Which ended up being a really good thing, because I love it.”
He relates the game to his time in training.
“It was similar to the experience I had in the army in the sense that however much you think you can take, or whatever you think your limit is, you can always do more. I didn’t think I could handle schoolwork, national guard and rugby, but then I found out that you can always make time for things,” he said. “You have way more time than you think you do, you just have to use it more efficiently.”
McGiffin’s dedication and hard work is something that is reflected in all aspects of his life from academics, to the rugby pitch and his service for our country.