US veterans fill their own void delivering aid to Philippines

Members of Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization staffed by US veterans, are using their military skills in the Philippines — and finding the camaraderie they miss in the process. The organization isn’t just lending a crucial role in helping aid the ravaged Tacloban region, harnessing the organizational training and skills learned by service men and women in war zones. It’s also filling a void for many of them who miss the intense bonds and clear mission of the military.

The group’s co-founder, Jacob Wood, is a square-jawed Iowa native who graduated college with a business degree and promptly enlisted in the Marine Corps. After four years in the military, including a deployment to Iraq in 2007, and another to Afghanistan in 2008, Wood got out. Then came the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when he and his Team Rubicon co-founder William McNulty, also a Marine, went down to aid in disaster relief. While working on the ground, they realized that veterans have many of the skills to help in relief efforts. From that first mission in Haiti, the organization has continued to grow to its current roster of more than 12,000 volunteers.

Team Rubicon has “all the best parts of the US military — mission, purpose, camaraderie — without the bad parts, like having to shave,” says Peter Meijer, a former US Army medic.

Volunteers bring in all their own water and food, usually favoring freeze-dried supplies or the specially packaged military food known as Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs. The key is to be self-sufficient, Meijer says. “The first rule of disaster response is don’t be a victim,” he says. Otherwise, “you’re just taking aid away from those who need it.”

In Manila, the presence of military veterans who are now civilians, as well as Team Rubicon’s visibility around the centers of military operation, have riled some in the aid community, who have criticized the group for hogging the spotlight. Some of the groups also complain of being bumped from flights.

But Wood defends his organization, saying that if team members come on strong, it is because “veterans are used to making difficult decisions in difficult situations.”

Indeed, part of Rubicon’s success, Wood argues, is knowing how the military works and what it needs, which comes in handy during large disasters in which US troops are brought in.  This is particularly important since the US military controls the flights that run to the disaster zones— flights which move aid shipments, vehicles, and volunteers.

“It really helps that we’re familiar with the chain of command,” Meijer says.

[Christian Science Monitor]

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