One Organization, Two Missions Accomplished

Leah Barkoukis

2/2/2014 5:34:00 PM - Leah Barkoukis

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the February issue of Townhall Magazine. Photo courtesy of Kirk Jackson, Team Rubicon.


Team Rubicon co-founder and CEO Jake Wood saw first-hand how bad the establishment was at responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. So when a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti five years later, he knew he couldn’t just sit back and watch the lumbered response of large aid organizations.

With four years of service in the Marine Corps under his belt, Wood had a specialized skill set he knew could be utilized in Haiti, and the connections needed to make a disaster response trip possible. Within days, Wood, along with a small team of veterans, health care providers, and first responders crossed the Artibonite River dividing the Dominican Republic and Haiti to bring much-needed help and medical supplies to the people of Port-au-Prince.

Chaos, destruction, and a complete breakdown of law and order were to be expected. What the team was surprised to find, however, was that they were not part of a larger relief effort— they were the relief effort.

“[Large aid organizations] do what they do well, but what they do takes them a long time to get going,” Dr. Dave Griswell said in the organization’s “Genesis Video.”

Thus, bridging the gap between when a large natural disaster strikes and the time it takes conventional aid organizations to respond became Team Rubicon’s primary mission. They arrive quickly, render care to the acutely injured, and get out of the way once other relief organizations start rolling through.

But the organization also serves another purpose.

“When they initially went over [to Haiti] it was just a thought that we need to go and help people,” Team Rubicon’s Public Affairs Officer Sam Kille tells Townhall. “But while they were there, they soon discovered that by helping other people, and being around like-minded individuals, veterans were getting back that sense of service that they didn’t feel after leaving the military.”

According to Team Rubicon’s website, 44 percent of veterans report no longer having a mission, while 92 percent of recently returned veterans say continued service in their community is important to them, a 2009 Civic Enterprises report found.

“Most people who are drawn to the military, they do it to begin with because they feel inclined to support something bigger than themselves,” Kille says. “So when you no longer have that anymore, it can make life difficult.”

Team Rubicon changes that equation by giving veterans a new mission, restoring that lost sense of purpose, and allowing them to build camaraderie with other like-minded individuals.

“Disaster is our business, but veterans are our passion,” Kills explains.

Since the initial relief effort inHaiti, Team Rubicon has grown from a team of eight to more than 14,000 volunteers across the United States. From Alaska to New Jersey, and Pakistan to the Philippines, volunteers have participated in relief efforts all over the world.

“When it comes to international operation like the Philippines, because we’re looking for very specific skill sets, those volunteers will come from all over the country,” Kille says. “A lot of times our responses internationally will tend to have more of a medical component to it, whereas here in the states it’ll typically be debris removal, volunteer management, those types of skills.”

While each team member brings a unique skill set to the table, Team Rubicon is always trying to increase the training pipeline for its volunteers. “We don’t want to be seen as a hindrance to responding to disaster, we want to be seen as a valuable asset,” Kille says.

And they are.

Team Rubicon’s small, rapidly deployable, and highly skilled teams are filling a critical void in disaster response at home and abroad. Since the organization’s founding in 2010, Team Rubicon has carried out 50 missions in 11 countries around the world, according to a press release. And in the Philippines, their largest international operation to date, they proved yet again that their new model for disaster response is working.

Within 48 hours of Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall, 18 volunteers from Team Rubicon were on their way to the Philippines, and dozens more followed. “More than 2,000 patients were treated or vaccinated during the response,” according to a press release, “before it transitioned long term medical care to a larger organization.”

While increasing its volunteer ranks and donations are crucial for Team Rubicon’s continued growth, another way the organization is looking to expand its ability to respond to disaster is by replicating their model in other countries.

“The war that we’ve been in since 9/11 isn’t an only American war, we’ve had many other countries who have fought along with us,” Kille explains. “They suffered through the same type of things American veterans go through, the problems with reintegration, and we’ve actually been talking with other countries about replicating Team Rubicon.”

Even though Team Rubicon is a veteran-focused disaster relief organization, volunteers don’t have to be veterans to join the team. Kille recommends that first responders, physicians, nurses and anyone that feels they have skills to bring to the table should visit their website, teamrubiconusa.org, and sign up to become a volunteer.

Natural disasters and crises aren’t going away, but Team Rubicon’s unique model is helping make relief efforts more seamless while simultaneously giving veterans a renewed sense of purpose.