HOUSTON, TX — In Houston right now, ravaged by Harvey, a group of 236 (and counting) volunteers is in deployment mode. Consisting of veterans, first responders, and “kickass civilians,” Team Rubicon specializes in helping people in areas stricken by disasters and when Harvey hit, they answered the call in military fashion: Operation Hard Hustle was born.
Team Rubicon volunteers are called “Greyshirts,” a simple moniker based on their T-shirts. One Greyshirt, Stephen Reid, came from New York, where he used to be a detective. “I travelled 1,800 miles to live on a cot for a week and to do this,” he said.
He recalled helping a hysterical small lady. “I gave her a hug,” he said. The woman’s father was sick and needed his medication, which was stuck inside their flooded house. “We look nothing alike. We’re from two separate worlds,” Reid said, knowing that years earlier, his own mother’s home was devastated by Sandy. He found the much-needed medication in the house, helping to keep the woman’s father healthy.
Jennie Haskamp is a Marine Corps veteran and is serving as the Public Information Officer for Operation Hard Hustle. She feels the same calling Reid does. “It’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said.
In an interview with Patch, Haskamp said Team Rubicon is ready to dig in. They’ve been working in Houston since Aug. 28, and “We have plans… to be here for eight weeks. We know that we’ll be here in some form or another for months and months. We’ll be here long after the cameras are gone,” she said.
Much of what Team Rubicon does is clean up. They clear out water-damaged homes, cut downed trees, clear debris and do whatever else the people need. They’re expecting a total of 2,000 volunteers over their efforts to provide relief to Harvey survivors.
Veterans are especially capable of this work. “We follow orders well, we communicate effectively within a unit, and we’re already used to doing the s— work,” Haskamp said.
The way Team Rubicon works is very close to how the military works. They’ve got high standards. Volunteers must complete hours of training before becoming eligible to deploy. All of the work they do matches or surpasses standards of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Tons of personal protective equipment, like hardhats, wading pants and masks, is required.
Haskamp is working at Team Rubicon’s command center in Houston. They also have five forward operating bases (FOBs), each the center of operations for a battalion. “Our plan is to have 20 battalions out there in the coming weeks,” she said, and hundreds more Greyshirts are flying in on donated flights.
Greyshirts live at the FOBs. Like on many military deployments, they sleep on cots and eat MREs for breakfast, or a hot breakfast if they’re lucky. Everybody is a member of a “strike team,” a 5-person unit that resembles a Marine Corps fire team. So every day, the strike team leader gets their orders and the team gets to work. They work all day at their mission and head back to the FOB to rest.
So far, they’ve completed almost 100 missions and have filed almost 2,000 damage assessments, all within a week or so.
The victims that Team Rubicon helps aren’t the only people to benefit from what they do. It can do wonders for the mental health of a veteran. “Helping is healing,” Haskamp said. “Vets don’t want a diagnosis or a title. We want a purpose.”
Any veteran knows that the strongest of bonds come from going through hardships with other people. “We appreciate the cohesion that comes from shared misery,” as Haskamp put it.
Haskamp recalled a Vietnam veteran saying “If we had something like this when I came home from Vietnam, it would have changed the trajectory of my life.”
After a grueling day of chopping trees and hauling water-damaged items, back on the FOB, the beer flag goes up, a sure way to boost morale. Each Greyshirt gets two beers if they want, but rules are strict. No driving until eight hours after having a drink, and lights are out at 10 p.m. nightly.
Team Rubicon began in 2010 after a devastating earthquake in Haiti. Two Marines gathered supplies and some help and flew down to the ravaged island to help in any way they could.
For more information on Team Rubicon, or to volunteer or donate, visit their website. They have 65 paid employees, but upwards of 54,000 unpaid volunteers.
Volunteers need not pay a dime: just bring work boots and work pants. Billeting, work equipment, food, travel and other expenses are paid for, and flights are donated