Even years after serving their country, some veterans still have that military spirit in their hearts - the desire to serve and give back to the country in times of need.
Two local veterans found a way to keep that spirit by joining the nationally recognized disaster relief organization for military veterans, Team Rubicon.
“I think it’s brilliant,” LaGrange veteran Donna Weathers, 42, said of the organization. “Jake and Will our founders are just amazing people that had a great idea and actually did something about it and it’s really humbling and awesome at the same time to be apart of it and help it grow as a nation wide organization.”
Weathers and Justin Waters, 24, a former member of the Army National Guard for four years, both became a part of the 4-year-old organization last year.
Waters found Team Rubicon during the midst of the Moore, Okla., tornado in May 2013.
“I was watching the news when the Oklahoma tornado went through and CNN posted a list of ways you can help,” said Waters. “I was scrolling through them and found Team Rubicon and thought that it sounded interesting because it was started by two Marines who had went to Haiti and their purpose was helping veterans reintegrate and help other people. I thought well, just sign up.”
After signing up, Waters deployed to Moore in June 2013 for one week to assist in the clean up of the devastation that killed over 20 people and injured nearly 400.
“I was really shocked at the amount of devastation that was there. I watched it on the news and I knew it was big, but whenever you get out there you could see clear across two neighborhoods. It’s definitely an awe- inspiring experience.”
Weathers, a retiree of the Navy after 20 years, signed up for TR after searching online for service opportunities. She deployed to the TR headquarters in Los Angeles, Calif., to assist in the Moore disaster relief, known as “Operation Starting Gun.”
Weathers, who worked as navy cryptologic technician and is now a management consultant for Habitat for Humanity, worked as a dispatcher for the operation. Waters, due to his experience with heavy equipment in the navy operated machinery to clear debris from the tornado.
According to the TR website, volunteers can work in operations that focus on expedient home and infrastructure repair, flood recovery, debris management, as well as post-disaster damage assessments (PDDA’s). In addition to a direct response role, TR has also taken on command and control responsibilities in support of local Emergency Operations Centers and large-scale spontaneous volunteer management.
Though volunteers may not know what their duty will be when dispatched, experience could be a determining factor.
Waters and Weathers also deployed to Augusta in February 2014 for “Operation Frozen Oak,” a relief effort from the winter snow storm that left downed trees on homes and roadways throughout the city.
“I didn’t know what to expect because I had always worked with tornado responses, so in my mind I was envisioning that it wasn’t that devastating because there weren’t personal injuries,” said Weathers. “But there were trees and limbs everywhere and it was devastating for that community. We were really able to make an impact by helping those homeowners that needed it.”
During this operation Waters worked directing the volunteers in Augusta to the various locations in the city. Weathers worked as a planning section chief.
“There were a lot of families we helped whose spouse was deployed somewhere, so it was nice to be able to help the wife with kids who needed it,” Weathers said.
The two agree that TR is a positive organization for military veterans.
“They keep that ‘military structure’ in,” said Waters. “It’s fantastic that they went through and organized it in a manner that created a structure that makes sense. People are given jobs to do and they delegate. I guess you can say it’s like the military in its own little way.”
Team Rubicon represents more than disaster relief, it represents veteran engagement, said Weathers.
“While we use disasters to engage veterans in their communities, we’re really about helping those veterans engage after returning from service and continuing to engage in that service,” said Weathers.
Weathers was also recently selected to be apart of The Clay Hunt Fellowship, a leadership program designed to meet the growing demands of Team Rubicon to improve the organization and develop competent professionals, capable of competing in the civilian workforce, as well as leaders within Team Rubicon.
According to Bob Obernier, region administrator for Team Rubicon, Waters and Weathers are the only TR volunteers in LaGrange with a new volunteer in West Point.
Team Rubicon was founded in the wake of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake by Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty. Since then, TR has grown from eight to 15,000 members. TR has conducted 53 operations around the world, including recent ice storms in Georgia and Pennsylvania, the Moore Oklahoma Tornados, Superstorm Sandy, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. To learn more about Team Rubicon, visit www.teamrubiconusa.org.