2013-11-08 / Top Stories

Veterans Day: Remembering Veteran Volunteers

By Katie McFadden

This Veterans Day, residents aren’t just paying their respects to the military members who dedicated their time on the battlefield and deployments abroad. They’re also remembering them for the work they did just a year ago in resident’s homes.

Thousands of veterans were among the many volunteers that showed up to help after Hurricane Sandy. Team Rubicon, a nonprofit group comprised of veterans, quickly made their name known after setting up camp in Rockaway on November 2, 2012 for Operation Greased Lightning. “It was apparent that the Rockaways were not receiving a lot of assistance in the initial recovery efforts and we decided that's where we'd be able to make the largest impact,” Team Rubicon Communications and Fundraising Coordinator Mike Lee said.

Team Rubicon had experience with natural disaster recovery before. The group was founded by two former Marines, Jake Wood and Will McNulty, in 2010 so they could provide help in Haiti after the massive earthquake. They also helped in the tornado-torn areas of Tuscaloosa, Al., and Joplin, Mo. in 2011. In each situation, the veterans took their skills in emergency medicine, risk assessment and mitigation, teamwork and decisive leadership from the battlefield and brought them to tackle disaster areas at home.

Once in Rockaway, Team Rubicon made their home base on Beach 124th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard and got to work doing tasks such as search and rescue, route clearance, debris removal, muck-outs, health and welfare checks and emergency operations staffing. The group started out relatively small, but by the end of their efforts, they had 350 military team leaders in charge of almost 10,000 military and non-military volunteers working on Sandy recovery.

Trying to keep track of that many people and the extent of the damage wasn’t easy, but Team Rubicon adopted a military geo-mapping technology called Palantir to assess Sandy’s damage and keep track of the relief efforts and the volunteers around the neighborhood.

The headquarters for the system software was set up in Gordon Soderberg’s Veterans Green Bus. After serving as a volunteer after Hurricane Katrina, Soderberg, a U.S. Navy veteran, created the vehicle which can run 3,500 miles on a single fill-up of biodiesel or waste veggie oil. He teamed up with Team Rubicon and used his bus to transport volunteers to Rockaway from Detroit and Chicago, as well as tool donations from Home Depot. Team Rubicon then used the bus to operate the tracking technology onboard through laptops as volunteers on the ground were able to connect to it through cell phones and update their location and send notes about residents that were in high-need of assistance and the progress that was made.

One of the largest volunteer days for the group was on Veterans Day 2012. Team Rubicon sent out a clarion call, asking other veteran volunteer groups to join them for a mass volunteer effort on November 11, 2012. Groups such as The Mission Continues, Give an Hour, The 6th Branch, the Pat Tillman Foundation, the Headstrong Project, Got Your 6, Student Veterans of America and Team Red, White and Blue joined Team Rubicon to put in work on a day in which they are typically honored.

Rockaway Beach resident Jennifer Meisner took note of the day a group of veterans showed up at her door. “They showed up on Veterans Day,” Meisner said. “We’re supposed to be doing things for them on Veterans Day and here they were helping me.” Meisner’s home had significant flood damage and she lost 90 percent of her belongings. The team of seven volunteers, many coming all the way from California and other parts of the country, helped rip out all of the sheetrock in her home and carried it to the curb.

Meisner noted that the group was not only professional and efficient, but they were nurturing and supportive. “They were so compassionate and were con- stantly giving me pep talks and hugs and they were so amazing,” she said. Meisner believes the team’s military experience played a role in their Sandy work. “They’re trained to walk into crisis and do what has to be done,” she said. “Their training absolutely played a big factor in it. They’ve seen a lot of horrible things in war and combat, so they were able to empathize and understand.”

Team Rubicon also helped school teacher Susan Settanni. “A couple of days after the storm, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to six Rubicon angels. They ripped the walls out, carried my belongings out, and gave me hope that things will get better!” Settanni said. “They all had great stories and positive attitudes. The Rubicon guys were my saving grace.”

Team Rubicon stayed on the peninsula until December 3rd, when they passed the torch on to Americorps and NY Cares. The organization was able to complete more than 900 home work orders during their Hurricane Sandy response and saved residents an estimated $3,825,000 because of the work they did.

The work of Team Rubicon is never over. The team immediately went to Moore, Okla. in May, following the massive EF5 tornado that tore through the area, to help residents there. Many Rockaway residents paid it forward by donating to Team Rubicon to support their relief efforts in Moore. They then went to Colorado in September after floodwater had decimated the region. “Disasters aren’t going away, and with your help, neither are we,” Team Rubicon co-founder Jake Wood said.

Team Rubicon has launched its firstever fundraising campaign called Eleven11. The nonprofit group is encouraging the public to donate $5 a month, which will help Team Rubicon launch more operations, engage more volunteers and grow as an organization. The campaign comes to an end on Veterans Day 2013, but the group collects donations throughout the year. Those interested in making a donation can head to www.give.teamrubiconusa.org.

Besides fundraising, Team Rubicon is continuing to commemorate Veterans Day by participating in service products. The group says it will be back to Rockaway on Veterans Day to help rebuild Sandy-damaged homes.

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