Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 19, 2018

Veterans perform community service in Bentonsport

By Rusty Ebert, Ledger correspondent | Aug 09, 2018
Source: RUSTY EBERT Kaiamae Wilburn of Manhattan, Kansas, fells diseased ash and locust trees in a county conservation area north of Bentonsport. Wilburn is a Team Rubicon volunteer and a firefighter.

BENTONSPORT – A nonprofit organization, made up mostly of veterans that help in disaster relief, was in Bentonsport last week getting important training and doing community service work for Van Buren County Conservation.

Team Rubicon is an international non-governmental organization founded by U.S. Marines William McNulty and Jacob “Jake” Wood. Team Rubicon identifies itself as a veteran service organization that uses disaster response to help reintegrate veterans back into civilian life.

They did prairie mitigation and timber stand improvement north of Bentonsport on county conservation areas, according to Richard Daugherty, conservation director.

“They helped clean up brush for our prairie that we are working on re-establishing, and felled diseased ash and locust trees on conservation property,” Daugherty said. “They provided invaluable service to our community.”


Bentonsport connection

Chris Bloomgren directed the efforts for Team Rubicon, which is a worldwide organization with more than 80,000 members.

He and his wife April (Sedore), live in Kahoka, Missouri, and have roots in the Bentonsport community. April’s mother, Betty Printy, and Betty’s husband, Bill, operate Iron and Lace and the blacksmith shop.

The objective from last week’s mission, besides training, was to return the prairie to its natural habitat, which in turn will assist the wildlife in the area, as well as other local species. The team removed around 8-10 acres of trees from the prairie to open the area up and also removed species that could be harmful. It is estimated that the work done over several days was worth approximately $61,000.

Team Rubicon is among the first to respond to natural disasters and members operate heavy machinery and chain saws to remove debris and assist in demolition. They have also been active recently in rebuilding homes.


Team Rubicon’s origin

Team Rubicon formed in January 2010 following the Haiti earthquake, when McNulty and Wood led a medical team into Port-au-Prince three days after the earthquake. The first Team Rubicon was an initial team of eight. They gathered funds and medical supplies from friends and family and flew into the Dominican Republic. They rented a truck, loaded their gear, and headed west to Haiti. The team treated thousands of patients, traveling to camps deemed “too dangerous” by other aid organizations. They ventured outside the traditional scale of disaster response, focusing on those who would be overlooked and untreated, according to Wikipedia.

The experience was the beginning of Team Rubicon.

Crossing over the Artibonite River, the natural border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the small team of eight volunteers called themselves “Team Rubicon” in reference to the Rubicon River in Rome – by crossing their Rubicon, the team acknowledged they were irrevocably committed to their task of helping those in need.


Becoming an NGO

McNulty and Wood decided to make Team Rubicon a permanent non-government organization. Team Rubicon has responded to over 275 disasters since the 2010 Haiti earthquake and grown from eight to 80,000 members. As a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Wood deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a scout sniper and earned the Navy-Marine Commendation Medal. Wood, a former Wisconsin Badger athlete, recently received the Pat Tillman Award at this year’s ESPYs, according to the organization’s website.

Team Rubicon wanted to solve two problems: 1) Inadequate disaster response that is slow, has an antiquated infrastructure, and is not using the best technological solutions or well-trained members; and 2) inadequate veteran reintegration into civilian life, where military veterans, whose training, skills, and experience, make them very effective in disaster response, can reduce suicide within their community and provide service to others.


Volunteer training

Because it has become such a large organization in a small amount of time, Team Rubicon has decided that training is essential for its volunteers.

“It used to be that we would ask, ‘Can you run a skid loader? Can you use a chain saw? Here you go,’” said the founders.

Now, Team Rubicon is shifting towards offering certification and training.

There were 40 volunteers from all over the United States who gathered at Bentonsport, Bloomgren said.

“We have everyone from age 18 to 65,” he said.

Volunteers received training in running chain saws and heavy equipment and can use the classes and experience to acquire certification for Team Rubicon special operations.

Bloomgren is a retired army veteran who volunteered for Team Rubicon and has been so convinced of their mission that he is now a staff member.

Team Rubicon is not government funded and depends on donations to respond to their operations.

Case equipment donated some heavy equipment that was used to remove brush. Not only that, but they send company representatives to teach Team Rubicon volunteers and help maintain the equipment.

Bloomgren said many of the Team Rubicon volunteers are veterans, have been in law enforcement, fire fighting or EMS fields.


Seeking more service

Angel Knudson, of Duluth, Minnesota, said she is a career military veteran and is approaching retirement.

“I want something to do after I am out of the military and being in a service organization that has veterans has attracted me to Team Rubicon,” Knudson said.

Bloomgren, who has served one tour in Iraq in 2003-04, said that is typical of a Team Rubicon volunteer.

“It’s important for them to be connected to veterans after they retire,” he said.

Kaiamae Wilburn of Manhattan, Kansas, said she wanted to be a Team Rubicon volunteer after an operation in her hometown exposed her to the members.

She spent her 18th birthday on a Team Rubicon operation. Kaiamae joined the U.S. Navy and received a medical discharge. She is now a firefighter.

Team Rubicon is a self-supporting, self-sustaining organization. When they mobilize, they can bring their own housing, as they did in Bentonsport.

Bloomgren said the long air-conditioned tent can be put up in 10 minutes.

A Washington restaurant helped provide meals.

“What we hope to accomplish is take the skills we learned here and put them to use when we mobilize for another project, like responding to a national disaster,” Bloomgren said.

“They are always welcome in Van Buren County,” Daugherty said. “We appreciated everything they did.”

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