Giving back: My story with Team Rubicon by Bill Loftus

Giving back: My story with Team Rubicon

Authored by Bill Loftus

I remember watching the news, seeing the horrible footage of the flooding in Puerto Rico. I had just finished with a hectic fire call earlier in the day and felt something inside me. Sure, my pager didn’t go off…I didn’t hear the fire whistle blow….yet I heard a calling. Get your ass down there!

A close family friend, retired Lt Col USMC, posted about him going to Puerto Rico to run security for FEMA and I immediately reached out. Sir, I love what you’re doing…how can I help? How can I get down there? The response was simple, and nothing more than I needed to hear. “I’m proud of you young man. Reach out to these folks, I’ll see you when you’re down here.” Clicked on the link, and my world was changed forever.

Team Rubicon was started by US Marines William McNulty and Jake Wood back in 2010 in response to the Haiti earthquake. Both Marines must have been influenced by the concept of Marine Expeditionary Units, because when their time in uniform was done, they started their own that is focused on disaster response. TR has deployed service-driven volunteers around the globe to dozens of disasters since then, and I was honored to serve twice within the last 12 months. Most of the badasses I was able to work with have since hung up their own uniforms, but proudly don the TR Greyshirt whenever they’re called to serve. Since then, TR has deployed on 313 disaster response operations around the world, with a growing roster of over 85,000 Greyshirts ready to deploy. They’ve handled 88 in 2018 alone - including Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, Hurricane Michael in Florida, and Super Typhoon Yutu in the Northern Mariana Islands.

After being medically DQ’d by the Corps nearly a year prior to joining TR, I let out a huge sigh of relief once I found out about the organization. “Ok, you can’t serve as an active duty Marine. But a close second would be serving with retired Marines. That’s all I thought as I uploaded my various certifications and training online. As I kept adding all the various courses I had with the fire department I work with, I was hit with a stroke of pride. I’ve served my community for a decade. This made so much sense to me, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of TR until this point

I signed up for chainsaw work, because why not? Chainsaws are awesome. I had used them with the re department and a little bit with my dad so I had some familiarity. As a history buff, it was just so cool for me to do my chainsaw training course at Antietam, but as someone who was ready to get shit done, I was in heaven. During the training, there were 40+ badasses from a dozen states gathered together to learn the TR approach to chainsaw operations. Once we were coached up, we applied the skills we had just learn to help clear out downed trees from a storm that recently struck the park. But that was just the surface of the experience. Digging deeper, I reapplied that I had never felt so welcome in a group of strangers, and from then on I knew I had made the right choice.

Fast forward a couple months, 6 AM, day after Thanksgiving. My dad drives me to the airport for my first disaster response operation, OP: Coqui Calling. This was a response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The thought of meeting, working with, and spending a week in the basketball stadium in Arecibo, Puerto Rico with more complete strangers would be unsettling to most, and yet the only thing I felt was excitement. As one of the TR cultural principles states, I was ready to Get Shit Done.

Now I’ve done yoga a handful of times, and it’s great. Quiet studio, soft padded mats, calm environment. Nope. Day 1, we go to a park to clear out about 40 trees and right in the middle of it all was a yoga class. There were 8-9 people, just relaxing and stretching in a park that would register louder than a Metallica concert. And they were just ecstatic that we were there to help. We cut down some serious trees in that park, one of which was well over 100 years old and must have survived a handful of storms throughout it’s lifetime - unfortunately, Hurricane Maria did a number on it and it would be a danger to the community if we didn’t remove it.

Coming into TR as a civilian was truly humbling in many ways. I didn’t feel out of place per se, but a few things were quite unfamiliar to me as it was run very similarly to the military. It wasn’t just the lingo or the ‘yes sir’ mentality of getting work done, it was the unreal flexibility with logistics. I could tell it was started by Marines, they would throw themselves into a situation, then figure out how to get themselves out. Quite impressive really, and it’s how TR operates. “Semper Gumby” right? Rubicon shows up to help, asks where they can put their gear, and takes it from there.

As I said, I was medically DQ’d by the Naval Medical Board, so my service record is limited to volunteer firefighting. I might have been one of five civilians in my entire Op, and that was truly something incredible. Being able to hear stories, both truly hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking, was something I hadn’t been exposed to on that level. I was treated like a brother, I was trusted with personal stories, and I was deeply moved by the entire experience.

One common theme amongst these warriors was a commitment to service, something that I remembered greatly from my Jesuit education in high school. The Jesuits believe in being a man for others, and the members of TR exemplified this in everything they did. From initially enlisting years ago, to signing up for TR, and removing some monster trees, these men and women did everything out of the goodness of their own hearts.

During this deployment, I teared up a bit at times while I was down there, cried after being thanked by a couple at the airport, and had to dry my eyes a little even writing this article. But it was that tremendous feeling of brotherhood and service that made me sign up again.

Just before Thanksgiving of this year I had the honor to serve with the TRibe again. I deployed as a part of Operation Silver Sun, based out of New Bern, North Carolina. This was one of six operations Team Rubicon had running in the state in response to Hurricane Florence. Another week out of the office and in the presence of true warriors serving those affected by the storm? Let’s GET SHIT DONE!!! Packed up mag bag, laced up my boots, and flew down for another week of service.

Now I love my colors, I joined my volunteer fire department once I turned 16, I remember saying the pledge every morning in grade school. I love my flag. And I love the unity it can represent after a tragedy. There’s a reason they raised it at Ground Zero, and there was a beautiful reason I saw one up at so many houses in North Carolina. There were so many houses that were hit so hard by this storm, yet still made sure to fly Old Glory because that’s what it stands for: resilience. That truly touched me.

New Bern is surrounded by a handful of military bases from a few branches, and you can clearly tell a lot of the veterans stuck around. We had the opportunity to meet and work for a lot of incredible people while we were there, many of whom were veterans. One of whom, truly touched me and inspired me to keep doing what I was doing. Retired Gunny turned Captain in the Navy Chaplain Corps, this 40+ year vet was turning his property into a weekend retreat for the various soldiers, Marines, and airmen in the area. He had helped so many people during his time of service and yet he felt compelled to keep giving back. That’s why it was such an honor to lend a hand and clear out the branches that came down in the storm.

I wasn’t the only one who was moved by our work down there, I could tell many of the folks I was with were as proud as I was. This wasn’t a ‘kumbaya’ moment by any means, but Team Rubicon really does provide you with something intangible to go along with your memories of your deployment. The connections you make, the people you met during your week, everything adds up to a remarkable experience.

I think the most beautiful part of TR is the compassion shared by all. Whether you’re having an off day, or someone you met just tore right through you with their story, someone will always come up to you to check in on you. A handful of the team members I met currently work in counseling, and it was just so amazing how everyone was there for one another. Hearing the Gunny tell me I would have made a hell of a Marine made me tear up, and within minutes I had a few people come up to me and ask if I was ok. And that was just incredible.

By the time I left Operation Silver Sun in New Bern, we had saved the community over $700,000 in volunteer labor costs, and that was just one place TR is lending a hand. As I write this, Team Rubicon is running response and/or rebuild operations in Florida, Illinois, Alaska, Texas, and Puerto Rico, with hundreds of volunteers from across the country. Each and every one ready to grab their works boots and lend a hand.

So I would recommend to anyone who is looking to give back, to find that purpose again, to belong to another community of badasses again….take a look at TR. You can join the mission at

TeamRubiconUSA.org

**All media representations (images, videos, social media mentions, etc.) of Team Rubicon are not owned by SOF Bad Monkey. Authored by Bill Loftus of Team Rubicon**