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Giving Veterans a New Mission With Team Rubicon

By Lee Siler
August 21, 2015
Team Rubicon

Roughly 100 volunteers, covered in mud and sweat, were packed into a junior high school gymnasium in Wimberley, Texas. They’d just returned from a sunrise to sunset day of mucking out homes in a community devastated by flooding.

It was their job to help begin the recovery process – to salvage what they could of people’s lives and property. And this was their resting place for the evening. Portable cots, lined up, one beside another across a hardwood floor.

For them, this was hardly an inconvenience. In fact, it brought back memories of the military brigades they rallied with when in uniform. But for the next several days, there would be no battlefields. Instead, they were uniting their unique skillsets – their abilities to get into, adapt to, and thrive in disaster zones – to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

This was an honor. This was their new calling.

Over the past five years, thousands of other U.S. military veterans and first responders have deployed to more than 100 disasters – from hurricanes and earthquakes to floods and tornadoes – around the world as a part of Team Rubicon. What began with a team of eight, led by two marines putting their experience to work in response to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, has grown into something special. Today, Team Rubicon has nearly 30,000 volunteers organized into 10 geographic regions across the country, ready to respond at a moment’s notice. 

By tapping their unique skills and offering training programs – which range from risk assessment and heavy equipment operation to firefighting and suicide prevention expertise – Team Rubicon increases the efficiency of disaster response efforts. The nonprofit organization also provides veterans with the sense of purpose, community and identity they need in order to transition successfully to civilian life. 

Their designated geographic regions mirror the FEMA organizational model and – when combined with Team Rubicon’s adoption of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) – allow them to rapidly deploy crisis response teams within hours of disasters happening. Team Rubicon’s adoption of FEMA’s NIMS standard is unique and is not required of nonprofit organizations. But because it’s the national standard for response, Team Rubicon has committed to it. This provides the organization the ability to communicate and interact with federal, state and county agencies in a manner that many other nonprofits cannot.

To further differentiate themselves, they’ve also developed a highly trained Incident Management Team (IMT) to build capacity among volunteer leaders in all 10 regions. IMT training, made possible through the financial support of organizations like Walmart, consists of advanced disaster relief concepts, leadership, culture, history, community cost recovery, technology systems, emergency management position cross-training and more.

They believe their track record on the scene of disasters around the world speaks for itself. But it's just as rewarding to see what these opportunities have brought to the lives of veterans along the way. According to a recent internal survey, 80% of volunteers are more satisfied with life following a deployment to a disaster zone with Team Rubicon. Nearly 97% feel a sense of community from being part of the team.

Team Rubicon is more than a team. The fact so many of their volunteers have tattooed the Team Rubicon logo on their bodies makes that immediately obvious. Name another service organization whose members permanently wear the logo. While their commitment to purpose and community drives their members’ sense of identity, it has certainly taken on a life of its own.