Team Rubicon: Disaster Relief
By Jack Feuer, Photos by Pej Behdarvand
Published Apr 1, 2012 8:00 AM
Savior Soldiers of Team Rubicon
Military vets and doctors take on the world's worst disasters.
Video by Aaron Proctor '05
Joshua Maverick Webster '09 believes that work—and life—should be "more fulfilling than just a paycheck." That ethic, plus a dedication to service and country, led this past president of the Military Veterans Organization at UCLA to serve four tours of duty in Afghanistan, two as an Army Ranger and two as an Air Force Pararescueman.
The indefatigable soldier/scholar registered for classes on a laptop in a little firebase in Helmand province outside of Kandahar. Seven days after returning to the States, he was in Westwood. Webster, whose mantra is to "look for the hardest job that I can do and do that," wanted to keep using his training to help people and he had an idea to launch a veteran disaster relief group.
In 2009, as he was about to graduate and depart for his final tour in Afghanistan, a friend, Anthony Allman '08 (founder of the Military Veterans Organization), asked him, "Remember that organization you wanted to start? Somebody else got there first. His name is Jake Wood and he goes to UCLA Anderson."
Along with ex-Marine William McNulty, Wood launched Team Rubicon after watching coverage of the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. The two vets realized they were trained to provide exactly the kind of help the devastated country needed. And so, despite advice not to proceed from government and large aid organizations, Team Rubicon members crossed the Artibonite River, which separates the Dominican Republic and Haiti, carrying crucial gear and medical supplies to the people of Port-au-Prince. They had crossed a river and committed to a risky course—ergo the Rubicon moniker.
Today, TR's former soldiers and doctors, paramedics, firefighters and other trained disaster relief specialists (many of them vets themselves) continue to "bridge the gap," as they call it, between the moment a disaster happens and the point at which conventional aid organizations respond. Teams have gone to Burma, Chile, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey and the Central African Republic—and last year they came to the aid of victims of the tornadoes that tore through Alabama and Missouri.
Not surprisingly, TR did turn out to be the perfect next mission for Josh Webster. Wood, who left Anderson after a year to devote all of his time to TR, told him, "As soon as you're back from Afghanistan, call me." Webster started as a Team Rubicon regional coordinator for volunteers and today is director of personnel and readiness—TR's version of a human resources director. He's also led or served on TR missions to Sudan and Turkey.
His first task was to set up a searchable online database. "If there's an accident in Hawaii, I can isolate the doctors, paramedics and nurses with military experience on the West Coast who have traveled to the Pacific islands before," Webster explains. "We're building out our own Internet portal. And we can hit up volunteers on social media when there is a disaster—sign them up instead of us having to call and ask, 'Are you prepared to go?'"
Webster estimates that when he began his database, TR had 300 or so volunteers. Today, it has 1,000. These authentic American heroes continue to race to wherever people are in need, and the group is broadening its mission to include partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity's Homes for Heroes project.
"We have an adage in the military: 'We all have strong backs,'" says Webster. "It's really not that difficult to motivate a bunch of vets to get out there and help somebody."