MADISON, Wisconsin — As thousands of soldiers return home from foreign wars, new challenges arise. Many veterans face physical and psychological challenges as they return to civilian life, and sometimes, the transition proves to be too daunting.
When a deadly earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Jake Wood, a Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, posted a message on Facebook stating his intent to travel to Haiti to help with the response. Within several days, Wood and seven other veterans and first responders arrived in the country.
Realizing the skills Wood and his fellow military professionals possessed, Wood and his volunteers maintained a distinct advantage over other disaster relief personnel: their combat skills had uniquely prepared them for the situation.
“Military veterans are very, very good at disaster response,” Wood said at a 2011 TEDx conference in San Diego.
In fact, over 90 percent of veterans want to continue their service, or some form of service, when they come home from active duty.
After helping overlooked and untreated Haitians, Wood and his team decided to expand their efforts. Once Wood and his volunteers returned home from Haiti, Wood learned that they had $150,000 in surplus donation funds. From then on, Team Rubicon became a registered nonprofit organization.
Following the organization’s early successes, Team Rubicon began to focus on providing its volunteers, many of whom are Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, with support for readjusting to non-combat lives. The suicide of one of Team Rubicon’s first members reshaped the philosophy of the team. Once seeing itself as “a disaster response organization that uses veteran service,” Team Rubicon began to view itself instead as “a veteran service organization that uses disaster response.”
“We think that we can give that purpose and that community and that self-worth back to the veteran,” Wood said.
Today, PTSD, homelessness, depression and other issues have dealt psychological and physical harm to returning soldiers. Of the nearly 2.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, nearly 50,000 were either homeless or required federal support for homelessness last year. Thousands suffer from psychological and physical harm as a result of their combat duties.
In the U.S., Team Rubicon focuses on infrastructure repair, debris management, flood recovery and post-disaster damage assessment (PDDA). Abroad, the organization performs a number of tasks, including medical relief, water and sanitary health operations and refugee camp assistance.
Apart from their work throughout the U.S. and Haiti, Team Rubicon has responded to disasters in Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Sudan and Chile. The team’s most recent response has been in Nebraska following the June tornadoes that struck parts of the state.
Currently, Team Rubicon consists of hundreds of team leaders and over 10,000 military and nonmilitary volunteers. As a nonprofit, Team Rubicon depends on donations from supporters. The organization also boasts an online store with Team Rubicon-inspired apparel and merchandise.
Among Team Rubicon’s Board of Directors and Advisors is retired General David Petraeus, a Chief Executive Officer of the New York Stock Exchange and CEO of an online software company for nonprofit organizations. The organization also maintains partnerships with such strategic, corporate and nonprofit organizations as the Clinton Global Initiative, The Home Depot and the Bob Woodruff Foundation, respectively.
On today’s modern battlefield, humanitarian aid workers have an increasingly difficult time performing their jobs. In the past, Red Cross vehicles could drive through a battlefield without being a target. Now, with groups like the Taliban actively targeting western aid workers, the job has become much more dangerous.
Perhaps it takes the outfit of a veteran soldier to reach the hard-to-reach.
– Ethan Safran