LA
05/23/2013 03:34 am ET Updated May 23, 2013

Oklahoma Tornado Relief: Team Rubicon Sends Military Volunteers To Rebuild Moore (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

He served in Operation Desert Storm and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, after 20 years in the Army, he will again serve his country in Operation Starting Gun, in Moore, Okla.

Cal Verdin, 41, is the Los Angeles resource manager for Team Rubicon, a disaster relief nonprofit made up primarily of military veterans. Founded in 2010 and headquartered in LA's Inglewood section, the organization has sent military veterans to disasters in Haiti, Chile, Burma, Pakistan, Sudan, Vermont, Maryland, Missouri and Alabama.

Now, the nonprofit is gearing up for its largest relief effort, dubbed Operation Starting Gun, in response to the tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on Monday, leaving 24 dead, including 10 children.

Verdin, who spent a month last year with other Rubicon volunteers helping with Hurricane Sandy in New York, said disaster relief is a large part of military training.

"We're good at creating organization out of chaos," Verdin told HuffPost. "We're trained in it. We're experienced in it."

Verdin's job in Oklahoma will be to make sure the volunteers are housed, fed and protected -- physically and emotionally. Veteran volunteers "might be suffering from traumatic brain injury and PTSD that we can't outwardly see," Verdin said. "And it looks like a war zone out there, so some hidden emotions might come back."

Verdin, who lives in Whittier, Calif., said he learned, while assisting with Hurricane Sandy relief, that volunteers in such stressful, emotional environments need to take breaks.

"Hopefully with the camaraderie we shared in the military, we can see if someone needs a break and say, 'Hey, go take a smoke break or get a full eight hours of sleep tonight,'" he said.

Although trying, the mission can be helpful for veterans making the transition to life back at home, Andrew Stevens, a Marine Corps veteran and Team Rubicon's director of field operations, told HuffPost.

"You may have been trusted with lives and had a position that had a much greater responsibility than what you're experiencing in the civilian work force," Stevens said. "So this is a chance for them to give back to their fullest ability."

Veteran volunteers "could be still be assessing the actions and trauma that they’ve been through abroad so being able to give back in a healing manner is very beneficial to their sense of community and self worth," said Stevens, 33.

Like previous Team Rubicon operations, the operation in Oklahoma will focus on low-income neighborhoods. "We're there to make homes somewhat livable again," Verdin said. That includes removing debris and muck out of homes, boarding up broken windows, covering broken roofs with tarps, and securing doors and walls.

"For example, if you have a single mother with children, even if there's no power or running water, we can make the home habitable so they can stay there and start piecing their lives back together," Verdin said.

Once Team Rubicon's crew in Moore assesses the help and resources needed, veteran volunteers from around the country will fly in, courtesy of 150 plane tickets donated by Southwest Airlines. Team Rubicon also said it will reimburse the driving costs for authorized veteran and non-veteran volunteers who live within 350 miles of Moore who wish to help out.

Stephanie Rudat, who is on Team Rubicon's board of advisers and blogs for HuffPost, explained the name of Operation Starting Gun, in Moore. "We respond before long-term disaster response agencies are established and operational," she told HuffPost. "We beat the starting gun."

The nonprofit anticipates having 200 to 250 volunteers -- 90 percent of them veterans -- in Moore. The operation will need all the help it can get, said Vince Moffitt, incident commander of Team Rubicon and a retired fire battalion chief.

"I've been to floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados, and I've never seen anything of this scope and magnitude," Moffitt, 42, said to HuffPost. "It's mass devastation. The pictures just don't do it justice."

How long the volunteers stay in Moore depends on how long the donations to Team Rubicon last. Click here to contribute and here to volunteer.

EARLIER ON HUFFPOST:

PHOTO GALLERIES
May 2013 Central U.S. Tornadoes (GRAPHIC IMAGES)

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