Hurricane Ian was bearing down on the west coast of Florida, and the Greyshirts at Team Rubicon were already well into the planning stages of their next operation.
“Team Rubicon is already responding by pre-staging route clearance teams to remove fallen trees and debris from roads when the storm makes landfall,” a status update email read. “We are also preparing reconnaissance teams, staging outside the storm’s path to assess further damage and identify unmet needs.”
Team Rubicon has been responding to hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, floods, and other assorted disasters since 2010, when eight former Marines, led by former sniper and Team Rubicon cofounder Jake Wood, headed to Haiti to help with recovery efforts after a 2010 earthquake. That experience led to the founding of the disaster response organization, which today has grown to 158,000 veterans — volunteers called Greyshirts — ready to respond to needs such as medical services, sanitation and hygiene assistance, and home rebuilding.
“A vast majority of our operations are domestic, but we’ve got folks in Ukraine, we are in Guatemala and Honduras, so we’ve been all over the globe,” says Team Rubicon CEO and Navy veteran Art delaCruz. “It’s been a long game of raising awareness. I like to say that we’re the biggest group that nobody knows about.”
Word is getting out about Team Rubicon and the impact it can have on recoveries. Since 2010, it has responded to more than 1,140 operations and currently has boots on the ground at more than 40 sites around the world, including helping Floridians recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Ian.
“There’s an organization named National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, and they’re starting to request us,” delaCruz said. “There’s a national framework of organizations that are starting to know who Team Rubicon is. Partnerships are incredibly important for us for promoting the brand, and I’m always amazed by the power of social media or a decent news article or a TV hit with crew being interviewed.”
This scenario played out during Team Rubicon’s summer operations in Eastern Kentucky, which was devastated with flooding. About 150 Greyshirts assisted with duties like clearing out debris from home and removing trees, and also giving hope to people who may have felt hopeless.
“For this operation in Eastern Kentucky, I had to work my way through going to the different officials to reach the county executive judge to explain what we can do for them, not just for their community, and the cost savings we can make,” said Jarrett Brown, a field leadership team member and Army veteran. “The county embraced us and took us in, welcomed us with open arms and made this operation happen. It varies where you go in the country to how they run their operations.”
When an operation begins, Team Rubicon’s mobilization team sends out texts and emails alerting volunteers of the opportunities. Volunteers are reimbursed for expenses while volunteering but are not paid for their services. For the veterans taking part in the operations, the idea of helping others is often payback enough.
“It’s the smiles on the homeowners after they just lost everything and still don’t know what they’re going to do with their next step to rebuild, but they’re smiling and laughing, so it’s very appealing and the more you do it, the more you get sucked in,” Brown said.
Veterans interested in joining the Greyshirts at Team Rubicon or contributing financially to the cause can visit their website at teamrubiconusa.org.