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Front Line

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Wrapped in a blanket to take the evening chill off his body, Jack looked around the refugee center at the mass of ragged people. So many were in shock, comforted where possible by friends and relatives, but others stood alone like statues while people moved around them.

Jack had seen the same sight over and over through his years working first with one of the major charities overseas and later with FEMA. He'd started out on the front line as a medical assistant, using his paramedic training to take on the less serious cases so the doctors could focus on those with immediately life-threatening injuries. He had stitched wounds, applied bandages, set broken limbs, given injections and vaccinations, set up IVs and monitored patients. He'd searched through piles of brick and mortar for survivors, dug latrines and put up tents, organized the front desk to help family members find each other... and when needed, he'd helped bury the dead.

It was the combination of all these skills that had him moving up to the newly appointed position of Deputy Director of FEMA. He understood all the different areas of expertise from organization to medical - what they needed and when they needed it.

His latest assistant, Adam Marquez, reached one of the shocked statues and quietly led the man to a safe place to sit down with a few others, handing him a bottle of water and one of the small food parcels before wrapping an emergency blanket around the man's shoulders and encouraging him to eat. It seemed to bring the man out of his shock a little, and when the confused eyes brushed over the crowd and found Jack's, Jack smiled back reassuringly.

Marquez came over afterwards and slumped down beside Jack, sighing heavily. He reached into his pack and brought out two more bottles of water and food parcels, pushing one set into Jack's hands.

"You've got to eat too. You're no good to these people if you're too tired, weak, hungry, and thirsty."

Jack smiled, recognizing the speech he had given to the new FEMA recruits just a few weeks earlier. It was the first and most important rule in his book even though it seemed cruel, especially when faced with a starving child.

The kind of good-hearted people driven to join relief agencies such as FEMA and the Red Cross, or to volunteer in desperate times such as natural disasters, could very easily add to the problem if they did not see to their own basic needs first. He'd seen it often enough, with doctors burned out from too many hours in surgery and too little sleep and food when they should be resting. And that led to tragic accidents and terrible mistakes, especially when dealing with frightened or injured people.

"Thanks," he murmured and took several small sips of water, almost moaning in pleasure as the tepid water washed away some of the dust clogging his throat.

He heard Marquez's soft laugh, enjoying the unexpected camaraderie as they unwrapped the basic ration pack and slowly ate the contents. Jack listened as Marquez described an amusing event from one of his earlier volunteer memories, and it was just what he needed to lighten the mood, reminding him of the strength of the human spirit to endure even in the worst of times, and to snatch good moments from amid chaos and tragedy. He looked around the camp again with fresh eyes, seeing the smiles of families and friends reunited, watching the stronger reach out to help those weaker or in more need than themselves.

He heard a child laugh as she was picked up and hugged by her father.

It was these moments that drove him on when he felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. These small moments that shone so brightly amid the darkness.

Perhaps one day he might be promoted to Director of FEMA, but whatever happened in the future he hoped he would never hide behind a desk, that he would always be on the front line where he belonged.