In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thousands were killed, and almost a million people lost their homes and livelihoods in the space of a few minutes. Marine Corps veterans William McNulty and Jake Wood weren’t affiliated with any aid network, but in the first critical hours after the disaster they saw a gap that wasn’t being filled fast enough. They teamed up with six other veterans and first responders and traveled to Haiti, carrying medical supplies donated by friends and family. The scale of the catastrophe called to mind a combat zone, and they found that their battle training now stood them in good stead as they ventured into unstable, overlooked areas to rescue survivors, provide triage, and dispense food.
This first spontaneous deployment proved contagious, as other veterans teamed up to intervene in disasters closer to home: Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the devastating Midwestern tornadoes, and more recently, flooding in rural West Virginia. As the program expanded, it was dubbed Team Rubicon, connoting an expeditionary force that doesn’t turn back.
Five years after the team’s first venture, one thing has become clear in their minds: those at the receiving end of their aid are not the only ones to benefit.
Veteran Harry Golden, who served in the Navy and National Guard, was leading a platoon in Ramadi, Iraq, when it came under heavy fire. He was transported home with a critical spinal cord injury. Now he speaks for many who are finding renewal in an unexpected chance to do what they do best:
I had spent the past seven years being pissed off at the world and drinking, like many of us do. That wasn’t getting me anywhere. I was aware of Team Rubicon, but wasn’t certain they would take me given my disabilities.… It’s good to feel needed again. Disaster is chaos, and what us combat veterans do best is chaos management. This is war: this is full-on combat on the front lines – without the violence.
As a result of this mission, people are starting to understand us. I’ve found that I still have something to give. There’s still something there. I’m here helping people, but as a result, it’s saving my own life.
In the wake of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, Team Rubicon deployed a team to Kathmandu. Follow or support Operation Tenzing and other Team Rubicon actions at www.teamrubiconusa.org.
Photographs courtesy of Team Rubicon.