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Disaster Response: The Next Mission for Veterans

Posted: 11/15/2012 1:47 pm

As Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast, most people flocked to grocery stores to stock up on the essentials. Many veterans, though, were preparing to respond to help those in need. This isn't a new story. Since 2010, Team Rubicon has helped organize thousands of veterans to respond to disaster areas.

Jake Wood immediately traveled to help those in need after a devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti in 2010. He recruited some of his fellow veterans and some professional medical personnel to treat injuries and save lives before more-established response teams arrived. In fact, Jake's team took over a hospital where no help was available, and treated more than 3,000 patients over two weeks. As he and the team of veterans were positively impacting many Haitians' lives, he realized that veterans want to continue to serve a greater good and they benefit greatly from the continued camaraderie. Enter Team Rubicon.

Jake and fellow veteran William McNulty founded Team Rubicon to organize teams of veterans for disaster response. It "honors service with service." Rubicon's mission is to bridge the gap that veterans experience as they transition from the military to civilian lives. While responding to disasters and completing community service projects in their communities, veteran volunteers create an ad hoc support network that aids their transition. Approximately 10 percent of Team Rubicon's volunteers are civilians, although more than 3,000 spontaneous volunteers have come out to support the Hurricane Sandy response and the majority are civilians. These civilians gain a better understanding of the value of a veteran.

Since Haiti, the volunteers continue to demonstrate their desire to serve. Team Rubicon volunteers have completed 38 missions to areas devastated by earthquakes (Chile), flooding (Pakistan) and tornadoes and hurricanes (U.S.). The organization has grown to a nationwide network of more than 4,500 volunteers who are primarily veterans that served since 9/11.

Most recently, Team Rubicon mobilized its teams immediately after Hurricane Sandy struck. More than 300 veterans have traveled from as far away as Hawaii to respond to regions from Virginia to New York and New Jersey. They're bringing order to chaos.

Team Rubicon volunteers have rescued people stranded in homes and in floodwater. They have delivered more than 1,000 pounds of food and supplies to those in need. The veterans have also conducted search and rescue operations and debris clearance. They have helped residents return to their homes and have conducted damage assessments. In fact, Team Rubicon has been so effective at organizing the disaster relief that other organizations are being dispatched through Team Rubicon's headquarters.

New York and New Jersey communities have submitted work orders requesting assistance. More than 250 work orders have been completed and 600 open work orders remain. "Team Rubicon has engaged hundreds of veterans to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. We will continue to do so until the work is done," said Jake Wood, Team Rubicon president and co-founder.

Several sponsors have joined the effort. The Home Depot has provided the majority of their supplies. AirLink and Jet Blue have combined to provide free flights for Team Rubicon volunteers traveling to disaster areas. Goldman Sachs has provided financial support. Palantir, an organization known for deciphering large databases, is processing all of the work orders and helping prioritize and triage response efforts.

There are approximately 2.4 million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom want to continue to serve their communities through organizations such as Team Rubicon. The leadership and intangible skills instilled in them through their military experiences make them a natural fit for these types of roles. Many veterans have had their leadership skills tested in difficult situations and naturally excel with limited resources and effortlessly demonstrate teamwork. These intangible skills, coupled with the tenacity for detail-oriented logistical and operational planning, are the main reason behind the successful execution of Team Rubicon's missions.

Veterans are highly desirable employees. They're committed to the mission, detail-oriented and able to multi-task effectively. They're confident in unfamiliar surroundings, and are used to quickly learning new roles. Employers should recognize that these intangible skills are paramount in the workplace and make a more concerted effort to seek veteran employees.

But many veterans struggle with the transition into civilian careers. Often, they are unable to translate their skills in such a way that a civilian would understand. The entire onus should not rest on the veteran, though. The intangible skills that veterans have developed typically make them ideal candidates. If employers can make the effort to understand veterans' experience, they'll find future leaders for their firm. For more information about translating veteran skills and locating veteran employees, please contact switchstarter@gmail.com.

In the meantime, veterans will continue to do what they do best -- work selflessly to bring disaster-ravaged locations back to normalcy.

Sleep well, America. You're in good hands.


Lisa Nagorny and Dan Pick are veterans and founders of Switch, an organization dedicated to helping student veterans transition. They provide webinars through partnerships with universities, and help student veterans develop a framework to more successfully transition. They created a career transition blog for veterans. For more articles on the military to civilian transition as well as resources for veterans, visit: http://SwitchStarter.wordpress.com.

 
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