Veterans on the ground after Sandy


| aaltman@queenscourier.com |

PHOTO COURTESY OF TEAM RUBICON USA
PHOTO COURTESY OF TEAM RUBICON USA

Team Rubicon USA volunteers carry damaged appliances out of a home in the Rockaways.

After reading a Time Magazine article last year on Team Rubicon USA, former United States Army Captain James Eisenberg and his brother Josh, also a former captain, enlisted immediately.

Team Rubicon, a non-profit group that organizes veterans to respond to natural disasters, deals with crises both domestic and international. It was formed after the deadly earthquake ripped through Haiti in 2010. “It brought teams of veterans to disaster situations and capitalized on military veterans’ ability to use teamwork and crisis management skills,” said Eisenberg. “At the same time, it gives veterans returning from recent combat a needed presence in their life.”

While a string of tornadoes touched down in the Midwest, Team Rubicon members swept through the region, cleaning out debris and assisting families who lost their homes. When Hurricane Irene brought floodwaters into New Jersey and New York, Team Rubicon drained basements and removed damaged and dangerous appliances.

When Sandy stormed New York City, Team Rubicon members deployed into the field, tracking damage and reporting their findings back to the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Shortly after the storm broke, teams in the Rockaways began rescue and repairs.

“[Veterans] have the skill set that’s well suited to serve in disasters,” said Sergeant Matt Pelak, Team Rubicon’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. “We wanted to take the desire to serve that veterans have and allow them to continue to serve,” said Pelak, who served in the Army in Iraq and is currently a member of the New York National Guard.

House by house, members dug out basements, getting rid of sand and tearing out compromised structural materials. They repurposed a device generally utilized in combat to track terrorist organizations and used it to monitor residents whose homes needed to be repaired, quickening their response to those in need.

Pelak said his group of young, motivated and capable volunteers were some of the first people to respond to the disaster in the Rockaways. After long days on the ground, members retired to a Brooklyn warehouse where they slept in sleeping bags for several weeks. Pelak said it’s veterans’ specific training and resilient work ethic that makes them optimal volunteers after a natural disaster.

“We come in quick with people who can live in the field and are capable of getting things done,” said Pelak.

Over Team Rubicon’s several-week stint in the Rockaways, which ended on Monday, December 3, nearly 200 volunteers joined their efforts. The outfit set up a center in the hard-hit zone, teaming groups of civilian volunteers with a skilled veteran and giving them the tools to go out into the field.

“It’s hard work and veterans want a challenge,” said Pelak. “They’re out of the military. They want to feel like they’re doing something with their lives and like they have a purpose.”