Team Rubicon: Harvey and Irma Meet Their Match

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article about Team Rubicon, a disaster-relief group made up primarily of veterans. Now, seven years after its inception, Team Rubicon is facing its largest challenges yet: hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with Jose not far behind. Disaster relief is needed in America now more than ever, and Team Rubicon has expanded its base, its outreach programs, its partnerships, and its ways to help almost exponentially in the last two years. Here’s the original article, which takes on a different perspective in light of today’s disasters.

“Why do you do it? Why do you leave your nice, comfortable life and go work so hard? Sleep on the ground? Eat MREs instead of a hot meal? Get banged up and bruised, so sore you feel like you have been hit with a stick?”

“How can I not?” is the reply, via a Facebook post.

This verbal exchange defines what “crossing the Rubicon” really means: taking a decisive, irrevocable step, and it is a decision more and more veterans make every day–they join Team Rubicon and change their lives forever.

After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, two veterans, Jake Wood and William McNulty, wanted to help with the recovery, but they didn’t know where to start. They gathered six more veterans and first responders, took donations from friends and family, and headed down to the Dominican Republic. There they crossed their own Rubicon (the Artibonite River) into Haiti where they worked with other aid organizations to help struggling families rebuild their lives. The gratification that came from serving others reawakened the bond of brotherhood they hadn’t felt since they were active duty military. Team Rubicon was born.

(Credit: Kirk Jackson, Team Rubicon)

(Credit: Kirk Jackson, Team Rubicon)

In just five short years, Team Rubicon has grown to almost 30,000 vets and first responders who have answered the call to help with over 100 disasters around the world. (Update: they trained 2,500 new members in just July 2017 alone, so membership is growing daily). Team Rubicon’s motto is “bridge the gap.” From their website: “We bridge the gap between disasters and when traditional aid organizations get to work. We bridge the gap between military and civilian life.” Timing is critical during a disaster, when lives are at stake.Willing to take risks and serve in areas where other health organizations won’t (or can’t) go, Team Rubicon’s skilled volunteers use their military training to also bridge the gap between immediate danger and first response.

Oftentimes those who serve overseas can return after deployment with a sense of disconnectedness, loss, and disorientation. Finding themselves medically discharged or retired from the military, some veterans struggle to rediscover their place in a home environment that has evolved without them. Although behavioral and mental health therapy may be recommended for many veterans, not all choose to accept it; many are in denial that they suffer from any type of post-traumatic stress. Team Rubicon helps to replace these sometimes debilitating emotions with a sense of camaraderie in a much healthier, supportive environment that fosters their re-connection to others in similar situations.

Back in earlier wars, such as World War II, soldiers who were deployed overseas had months aboard ships to decompress and process their experiences with other guys who were right there with them. Modern veterans can find themselves back at home eight hours after leaving a combat zone, being expected to step back into a normal family role. It’s not an easy transiton.

Mark Ambrose with his team. (Credit: Kirk Jackson, Team Rubicon)

Mark Ambrose with his team. (Credit: Kirk Jackson, Team Rubicon)

I interviewed Mark Ambrose, Team Rubicon’s Region 8 Logistics Deputy, to get his perspective (you can see Mark with other Team Rubicon members in the picture).

DeLyn: Why are you such a strong supporter of Team Rubicon?

Mark: I retired from the military with some pretty serious disabilities, post-traumatic stress not the least of them. Team Rubicon helped get me get focused and back on track, using the skills I learned in the military to help other people. It’s very gratifying.

DeLyn: What do you think is the most important factor of Team Rubicon?

Mark: Team Rubicon is veteran-based first, and disaster response second. We give veterans a sense of purpose, duty, and honor. The sense of brotherhood that seems lost to veterans when their service is over is replaced with a new sense of brotherhood that feels the same. Also important is suicide prevention. Did you know that 18-22 veterans commit suicide each day? Involvement in our team can lower that number. Team Rubicon provides not only a sense of purpose, but also a safe place where vets can talk about their experiences with like-minded people, so it’s therapy within itself. Free therapy that works better in some cases than a psychologist.

DeLyn: What are some of the challenges Team Rubicon faces as it grows?

Mark: Fortunately we have great leadership, so the biggest challenge is finding the time to orchestrate more volunteers and staff so we can respond better and faster. Getting the word out is also a challenge; we need vets to understand the importance of their involvement.

DeLyn: I see that your financials are transparent, and posted on a page on your website. Can you tell me more about donated funds?

Mark: We listen closely to our donors, and if they are not satisfied with the work we’re doing, we address those concerns directly. As you can imagine, we can use all the help we can get! You can find out more by looking at our financials page, or checking out our wish list, which shows different equipment and what we’d like to use it for. (Update: you can donate specifically to Harvey or Irma relief on their website now too; you can also set up a monthly donation).

DeLyn: Do you only take volunteers who are veterans? Or how does a person sign up?

Mark: Oh no, anyone can join. Veterans, first responders, and as we like to say, “kick ass civilians.” We even have Vietnam veterans who regularly volunteer. And not all of our focus is on disasters, either. We do lots of social events and other outreach and service-based programs throughout the year so people can be as involved as they want to be. Volunteers can sign up on our website.

Dancing Rabbit

(Credit: Kirk Jackson, Team Rubicon)

Check out the following video for more details: Tom Hanks tells the story of Team Rubicon, and for the full story of the genesis of Team Rubicon, read Charlie Mike. Ten percent of the book’s sales go to Team Rubicon.

I am awed and humbled by the scope and depth at which these vets are able to help those in need, while at the same time getting much needed help for themselves. From damage assessment to debris management to home repair and even medical service, Team Rubicon does it all at no charge. To find out more about Team Rubicon, visit their website or find them on Facebook. It’s amazing what the power of brotherhood can do.

Happy Veterans Day, Team Rubicon, and thank you all for your continued service.