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Veterans redeploy in service of Sandy victims

A team of veterans spent Veterans Day cleaning up the Rockaways.

This weekend, around 60 veterans celebrated Veterans Day by being re-deployed. This time, though, their mission was closer to home.

Team Rubicon, a non-profit disaster response organization founded and run by veterans, started mobilizing 24 hours before Hurricane Sandy hit NY, and has been in the Rockaways for the past two weeks, using their military skills to deal with the destruction left by the storm.

According to Team Rubicon Director of Program Development Joanne Dennis, Rubicon's 60 vets have organized close to 4,000 "civilian" volunteers this weekend alone, an impromptu mission they took on when confronted with the hordes of volunteers showing up in the Rockaways itching to help but without any guiding organization.

"When you have all these people coming down just hoping to help out and it's not organized, it can turn into chaos," Dennis said. "So our veterans ended up organizing civilians."

The veterans deployed the civilians in ten-person teams led by veteran leaders, completing over 300 work orders submitted by local residents.

Team Rubicon was founded by two veteran Marines in January 2010, after the earthquake that struck Haiti.

"They saw the devastation that happened in Haiti, and they said, 'our skills would be useful in this situation,'" Dennis recounts. "That's always been the attitude — we know how to do chaos, we know how to work together, we know how to get the job done."

One year later, they hired Dennis as their first employee. A week after that, their good friend and co-founder Clay Hunt, a Marine suffering from PTSD, committed suicide.

"Before, our focus was disaster victims, and after that, we realized our focus really needed to be the veteran," Dennis recounted. "Veterans get so much out of this experience of being put back into action, getting to use their skills to do something that saves lives. It's a really healing experience."

Team Rubicon plans to stay in the Rockways for at least another week, depending on the work that's needed. Dennis is particularly concerned about the weather. During last week's nor'easter, Team Rubicon spent the night out in the field doing search and rescue, and then went around doing wellness checks throughout the following day.

"We'll continue here as long as the high volume of work and the enormity of the situation calls for help," Dennis said. "There's still no electricity in the entire area, so people are still in a pretty dire situation out here."

Who is volunteering?

Team Rubicon's volunteers are people like Lucas Scimia, a 25-year-old Iraq veteran from White Plains, who was in the Rockways with Team Rubicon last week, mucking out basements, demolishing walls, and dealing with the buildup of debris in flooded houses.

"Everyone was super productive, highly motivated," Scimia said of the experience of working with fellow veterans.

Team Rubicon's Joanne Dennis pointed to a video that they had posted to their Facebook page in honor of Veterans Day, as an explanation of who they are and what they're about. In the video, a wounded vet talks about his experience spending the holiday volunteering with Team Rubicon.

The veteran, Harry Golden describes spending the past several years of his life "pissed off at the world and drinking" since returning from Iraq paralyzed with a broken back and the emotional trauma of having lost a third of his team in the field.

"In the short time I've been here, I've found that I still have something to give, there's still something there," Golden says in the video.

Scimia remembered meeting Golden while volunteering. "He was a sweetheart," Scimia said. "He was a nice guy."

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