Team Rubicon


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November 17, 2014

When a group of marines responded to the earthquake in Haiti, they had no idea that it was the start of a disaster relief organization that would one day boast a roster of 17,000 veteran volunteers and provide humanitarian aid to devastated communities around the world.

By uniting the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders, Team Rubicon not only aids communities affected by disasters, but simultaneously reignites a sense of mission and camaraderie many veterans seek as they re-enter civilian life.

We sat down with two faces behind the organization, Jake Wood, co-founder and chief executive officer, and Ken Harbaugh, chief operations officer, to learn more about Team Rubicon’s story and how Team Rubicon and Team Depot join forces to assist communities in need.

When a disaster strikes, how does Team Rubicon respond?

KH: Team Rubicon is modeled along FEMA’s regional structure with 10 regions spread across the country. When a disaster strikes, we connect regional teams with local officials to mobilize our members. We send a call for volunteers with specific skill sets and training. When our emergency response volunteers arrive on site, we put them up in a gym or church hall, feed them and get to work helping the community.

Over time, it’s the emergency response operations who are the ones calling us. We’ve got an operation in Washington state now where the city reached out to us and not only asked for help, but also requested we manage the entire wildfire disaster relief efforts in the area.

What benefit does military training provide to disaster relief efforts, and what additional training does Team Rubicon provide to volunteers?

KH: It’s mostly “soft” skills that are pretty natural to those with military experience – the ability to lead teams, make decisions when things are falling apart around you and pull together people from different backgrounds to work as a team in difficult situations. We also train volunteers on hard skills, like how to operate heavy equipment and how to assess and understand an incident management system so that we are speaking the same language as FEMA, the Red Cross and other responders on scene.

What benefit does emergency response work and Team Rubicon provide to volunteering veterans?

JW: We respond to disasters to help those in need, but we also use this work as an opportunity to engage our veterans and provide them with a new mission, giving them a sense of purpose and community. While executing these field operations, we realized if we’re going to take our mission of helping veterans reintegrate seriously, we had to put some long term programs in place to help make that happen.

Our program operations are charged with building out a community by engaging veterans non-operationally. For example, in between disasters, we train members of the team to help prevent mental health catastrophes from happening. When you build up a member base of 17,000, most of them being veterans, there are going to be some that are vulnerable emotionally and psychologically. The first line of defense is going to be that peer group. So, we’re working to equip them with the tools necessary to intervene when they see a potential mental health crisis developing.

How does the shared mission of Team Depot and Team Rubicon come into play during a disaster?

KH: From the field operations side, we couldn’t respond the way we do without our partnership with Home Depot. Knowing we have a guaranteed operating base in a Home Depot parking lot gives us a ton of confidence as we set up for an operation. Home Depot’s supply chain provides us with equipment for just about every need, enabling us to arm volunteers and punch way above our weight.

On the emotional side of our partnership, the most meaningful thing for me is when Team Depot shows up, and we’re able to really see that connection on a personal level. Our tag line is “bridge the gap,” which, among many meanings, signifies bridging the gap between our veterans, military members and civilian communities. Team Depot and Team Rubicon working side by side is a great example of that gap being bridged in real life.

JW: Culture really matters to us, and we’ve found a real alignment in values, beliefs and purpose for doing this with Team Depot. Home Depot is helping us for the right reasons, and we really consider Team Depot to be a part of our team.

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