Dallas, Texas — By now we have all seen the devastation and might of the United States first major hurricane to hit the mainland in the 2017 hurricane season. The category 4 hurricane known as ‘Harvey’ made landfall in the early morning hours of August 25th near Rockport, Texas which lays along the of coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Harvey pummeled the Texas coastline with wind upwards of 160 miles per hour accompanied by a massive deluge of rainfall.
As Harvey moved further inland the body of the hurricane lumbered towards the city of Houston, meteorologists along with experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned of catastrophic flooding along the city and its surrounding regions floodplain.
And Harvey, as it stalled above the region at peak intensity, did just that as its winds leveled entire blocks and its rain dumped close to 30 inches in some areas, which swelled most all of Harris County’s bayous along with Houston’s urban sprawl leaving thousands stranded and trapped by the raging flood waters.
However there was an emergency response organization made up of military veterans and first responders that were tracking the storm that began making preparations a week prior. That group was the Region VI division of the non-governmental organization (NGO) of Team Rubicon (TR).
Within hours of Harvey making landfall, Team Rubicon sent the call out for volunteers with swift water rescue experience and boats to head to the city of Houston and Harris County to begin assisting those in the hurricane’s path and the subsequent flooding it brought. A small team of 48 veteran and first responder volunteers headed into the mouth of the beast, taking their boats and training to south Texas, disregarding their own personal safety to help others.
The name Rubicon is from the phrase “crossing the Rubicon,” an idiom to mean passing a point of no return, and these volunteers did just that and set in motion what Team Rubicon now calls; Operation Shallow Draft.
Team Rubicon’s rescue efforts within the first 24 hours of hurricane Harvey making landfall didn’t just happen with a few phone calls and calls for action on social media, this well-oiled machine of volunteers was coordinated through Team Rubicon’s National Operations Center (NOC) located in Grand Prairie just outside of Dallas, Texas.
SOFREP was able to gain access to the men and women behind Team Rubicon’s efforts along with a personal tour of the facility’s command center by its CEO, Jake Wood.
Wood who is a former Marine scout-sniper, started Team Rubicon along with another Marine veteran, William McNulty in 2010 following the earthquake in Haiti. Wood and a small team of eight volunteers gathered medical supplies and finances from their friends and family and in the following weeks provided medical treatment and aid to thousands affected by the earthquake; after which the concept of Team Rubicon was born.
As I entered the Team Rubicon NOC it was buzzing with activity, people behind computer screens or on cell phones busily coordinating with their volunteers and emergency crews down in both Harris and Galveston counties where the flooding was the worst. I was greeted by the Deputy Director of Operational Support, Dennis Clancey and he graciously took the time to answer a few questions. “This facility is about 12,000 square feet where we have our command center, or node and this location is our (Team Rubicon) coordination center for our global disaster response operations.” Clancey said as he gave SOFREP the tour of the building.
The front portion of the building was the headquarters section, where logistics and communication teams worked day and night to get volunteers cleared to travel and ensure supply routes got established. Clancey pointed out that “here at the NOC we ensure our incident commanders on the ground have what they need to do their mission. If they can’t get it locally or are unable to gain access to the resources they need, we get to them from here.”
As we headed to the warehouse portion of the NOC, Team Rubicon’s CEO, Jake Wood was just finishing up a live update on TR’s efforts in Houston and the surrounding areas on TR’s Facebook page. Wood who was double fisting two cell phones that never seemed to stop dinging, graciously joined my personalized tour.
The warehouse was massive and stocked to the rafters with incoming donated supplies and gear, one section was several tables of computers and cell phones being programmed for use by the incident commanders getting ready to head down to Rockport and Houston. “We are about to establish FOB’s (Forward Operating Bases) down in Rockport and in Houston where we can send our volunteers and provide command and control nodes for follow-on efforts. They will need these donated cell phones and computers.” said Wood.
The military jargon felt oddly comforting to me and I immediately understood what the plan was, due to its use. As I looked around at various medical supplies packed neatly into their plastic “toughbox” bins, labeled and numbered along with chainsaws, shovels, and even a few ATVs. I couldn’t help but feel as if I just stepped into a Special Forces team room. Everything was ready to be loaded up into one of the two Team Rubicon Mobile Command Center tractor trailers that sat just in front of the loading bays.
The military organization was staggeringly apparent and its flow immaculate.
As we rounded out the tour, Wood introduced me to one of the Operational Logistic associates who was about to hook up one of the mobile command trailers and head down to Houston, Cal Verdin. Yet Cal didn’t need an introduction, he was my old squad leader from my time as an infantry medic in the 173rd who I haven’t seen since my time in Italy. “This happens a lot here at TR.” said Wood upon hearing that the both of us served together.
And just as if on queue, Wood’s cell phones began to ring again, people needed him, the effort needed him and I realized he was spending precious time playing tour guide with me. He politely asked if he could get going back to the communications node in the front office, a donation needed his attention and people needed his approval on another issue as well. I thanked him along with the staff of the Team Rubicon NOC for their time to which they invited me down to Houston to see their FOB along with their recovery efforts that will be in full swing for months to come.
The devastation in both Houston and the surrounding counties is massive and isn’t going to be fixed any time soon. The recovery effort will take months and it is looking like it will take Houston years to rebuild what Harvey destroyed. However, the volunteers of Team Rubicon are not going anywhere any time soon, they are there for the long haul.
I left the NOC with a few pieces of memorabilia and a gray shirt worn by the disaster response team volunteers and a sense of pride in this veteran-owned and operated non-governmental disaster response organization. The sense of purpose and strong team cohesion felt by me must be 100 fold to the actual ‘boots-on-ground’ volunteers in places like Houston and Rockport. Team Rubicon has come so far since its small eight man team of concerned veterans heading to Haiti with nothing but the gear on their backs and funds from their loved ones. And Team Rubicon has become the focal point of what a few motivated veterans can accomplish for the country of which they served.
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Feature image courtesy of: Derek Gannon