Hurricane Sandy’s sweep over the Rockaways flooded houses, destroyed homes and businesses and left thousands stranded. In the wake of Sandy’s destruction, a disaster relief organization called Team Rubicon, operated by military veterans, used its skills to begin rebuilding in Rockaway Beach. The group’s original mission was to use its members’ military expertise to aid disaster-stricken communities, but since its foundation, Team Rubicon has added a new goal: helping veterans adjust to life after the military.
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“Team Rubicon has been phenomenal for me,” said Eric Papineau, a former Marine and first-time volunteer. Papineau said Rubicon makes him feel connected to his friends serving in Afghanistan. “While they are serving over there, we are continuing our service over here.”
Team Rubicon started as a service project after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Two former Marines, Jacob Wood and William McNulty, gathered a group of veterans to provide aid to earthquake refugees. In the two years since, Team Rubicon has expanded all over the world. But it was just before its first domestic deployment in 2011 that Team Rubicon was changed forever. Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran and one of the original members on the first trip to Haiti, committed suicide.
In the aftermath of Hunt’s death, Team Rubicon added a second point to its mission. In addition to aiding disaster-stricken communities, the organization would focus on providing veterans a community of support and purpose to ease their return to life after the military.
“They’re some of the most selfless people that I’ve ever met, and they really look out for one another aggressively,” said Nicole Green, a former intelligence officer for the Air Force who is now director of personnel for Team Rubicon.
Shane Valverde spent 20 years serving abroad. Now, he’s a director of field operations for Team Rubicon. He said that the sense of purpose and teamwork in disaster relief was important to him. “I think that for veterans, that’s what a lot of us miss,” Valverde said. “By doing this, you feel useful again, and you feel necessary.”
Green said, “Whether you’re a man or a woman, there’s a place for you here and there’s a lot of good work to be done.”
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With over 350 team leaders and almost 10,000 military and nonmilitary volunteers, Team Rubicon’s Sandy relief operations included clearing water, sand and dangerous debris out of houses and residential areas. But over a month after the storm, plenty of work remained.
As an emergency relief organization, Team Rubicon’s official mission in the Rockaways ended Dec. 5, and team leaders worked with service groups in the area to provide a platform for long-term support to a community that is still recovering from a historic storm. They’ve received widespread public acclaim for their efforts, including an introduction by Chelsea Clinton at the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief and a mention on “The Colbert Report.”
The organization relies on donors who pledge money to specific disaster relief efforts, or who pledge a monthly donation to the organization. More information about supporting Team Rubicon’s efforts can be found at its website.
Reporting by Mustafa Hameed, Xiaoran Liu, Elizabeth Murray, Lorena O’Neil, Tenzin Shakya and Stuart Sia, all master’s students at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism