Good News: Veterans and Sandy

Veterans volunteer for Sandy relief effort in the Rockaways. Credit CBS 2

I’ve long sensed that what we humans need more than anything else is to feel useful. No matter how old or crippled or impoverished, when we feel ourselves to be of service to others, the world opens. Abundance flows from the opened heart like flowers.

Hundreds of Veterans Help Sandy Victims and Each Other

November 14, 2012



They have come from as far as Alaska to tear down water-damaged walls and clear debris from flood-ravaged yards. They have been assigned team leaders and given marching orders. They have been asked to work in the rain, sleep on a gym floor and eat military Meals Ready to Eat. If that all sounds like a military humanitarian mission, well, that’s sort of the idea.

For the past week, hundreds of military veterans from across the nation have flocked to Far Rockaway, summoned by a beacon from Team Rubicon, a nonprofit created by veterans to help other veterans through a therapy known as disaster relief.

Team Rubicon was formed in 2010 by two Marines, Jake Wood and William McNulty, to help veterans who were struggling to find their way back into civilian life. The idea was to employ skills the veterans had learned in the military, combine them with some high-adrenaline action and give them a healthy dose of public service.

The result, they hoped, would be experiences that might renew the sense of purpose many veterans say they lose after separating from military life.

“We became a veterans service organization that happens to be good at disaster response,” Mr. McNulty said.

Their trial mission was to Haiti immediately after the 2010 earthquake, where Mr. Wood and Mr. McNulty organized a team of doctors, corpsmen, paramedics and other medical professionals, most of them veterans, to deliver basic battlefield medicine. Soon after, they decided to form a nonprofit, and Team Rubicon was born. Missions to Pakistan, Chile, Burma and South Sudan followed.

Last year, the group, prodded by its first full-time employee, Joanne Dennis, decided it should think about responding to domestic events as well. It organized itself along the lines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, dividing the nation into 10 regions, each with a manager whose job was to build a network of veteran volunteers.

The team helped out in tornado-blasted Tuscaloosa, Ala., then tornado-blasted Joplin, Mo.

Then came Sandy.

Two days before Sandy hit the East Coast, Team Rubicon reconnaissance teams were scouting the region for possible trouble spots, Mr. McNulty said. Within days after the storm passed, the first teams started assessing damage and delivering aid.

Initially volunteers came from the East Coast. But as the days wore on, more started coming from across the country. By Monday, two weeks after the storm hit, 300 military volunteers and 5,000 civilians had contributed sweat to help beleaguered Far Rockaway residents under the Team Rubicon banner.

Donations have fueled the work. Home Depot has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in new tools, from brooms to sledgehammers. Round-trip plane tickets were provided by Jet Blue. A company called Meal Kit Supply supplied the M.R.E.s. And last week Goldman Sachs donated $250,000 to help the Sandy mobilization.

The donations have allowed Team Rubicon to run what has been its largest operation to date (they actually call it a deployment). At its base of operations, a gated parking lot at 124th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, the team’s seven full-time staff members have been organizing volunteers and tracking work orders using logistics programs and geospatial software. It has been good training for a still-young nonprofit.

“It’s organized chaos,” Mr. McNulty said. “This is our largest operation ever, so we’re pushing our capacity in terms of what we can handle in the long term.”

Along for the mission have been six veterans from Norway who served in Afghanistan. They had planned to join Team Rubicon for a mission in Liberia. But when Sandy crashed into the East Coast, Team Rubicon turned its focus on the New York area, and the Norwegians volunteered to come along.

Mr. McNulty, 35, said he hopes the joint international mission will be the first of many, as Team Rubicon has begun talks with veterans from Britain, Canada and Australia, as well as Norway, about creating an international network of veteran volunteers who could scramble to disaster zones across the globe.

In Far Rockaway, the team had initially planned on staying for two weeks. But it will almost certainly extend the mission by a couple of weeks, though at a scaled-down level.

“There are a lot of people looking at us for direction on how to set up a similar style operation,” Mr. McNulty said. “I think the answer is easy: hire veterans. They have the skills, they have the experience working in these austere, chaotic environments.”

And see this from CBS news.

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