Team Rubicon bridges the gap for Moore tornado victims

Team Rubicon, a group of military veterans and civilians, have been helping in Moore since the May 20 tornado
BY SARAH HUSSAIN shussain@opubco.com Modified: June 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm •  Published: June 28, 2013

Military camaraderie lives on in Team Rubicon and the volunteers who have lent hands, tools, blood, sweat and tears to Moore tornado victims.

Team Rubicon is an organization founded by eight men who were looking for something to do after getting out of the military, said volunteer Robert Obernier, of Cumming, Ga.

In three years the organization has grown to 8,000 volunteers.

“Operation: Starting Gun” is what they named their deployment to Moore. Volunteers were on the ground within 48 hours of the tornado's destruction.

Since then, nearly 400 volunteers from across the nation came to help with home demolitions, heavy debris removal and damage mitigation. Some did not have to travel far.

Moore native Megan McKee and her boyfriend, Isaiah Johnson, of Edmond, happened across the team's operating base in the Home Depot parking lot while volunteering with another organization days after the tornado.

“The first couple days after the tornado, we were trying to help out wherever we could and we weren't really fitting in,” McKee said. “Since day one on the ground with Team Rubicon, it's like we're back with the people I served with.”

McKee is a Navy search and rescue veteran, and Johnson is an Army scout platoon veteran.

Johnson said after returning to a civilian lifestyle, Team Rubicon made them feel like they have a purpose again.

McKee's grandmother's house was hit by the tornado and considered a total loss. Johnson was helping McKee and her family clear out the house on their own time when a fellow volunteer with Team Rubicon heard about what happened.

They put in a work order through the team's data tracking system and sent teams to demolish the house over a two-and-a-half-day period.

“Many of them did not know it was my grandma's house and it was amazing just watching their level of delicacy with all the objects found,” McKee said.

“If I ever get the chance to repay the favor and help out, I look forward to it,” McKee said when asked if she and Johnson would continue with Team Rubicon after their Moore operation is over Saturday.

“It's hard to leave it in any condition that isn't perfect,” said Garrett Ryan, of St. Louis, as he contemplated the end of the operation. “You see the debris piles and you feel like it isn't complete”

Bridging the gap

Team Rubicon operates off donations and can afford to bridge the gap between the initial disaster and when additional, bigger aid organizations step in.

“It's hard to leave it the way it is, but I know it will be in good hands,” Ryan said. “The people of Moore are incredible, and I think they'll be all right.”

The volunteers performed more than 45 full home demolitions, provided heavy debris removal on more than 70 properties, and offered damage mitigation on more than 50 homes in the month the team was deployed and running out of the Home Depot parking lot.

“It's been a great relationship,” said Home Depot operations manager Adam Parrish. “I think the best part of it is, it's been a way for the (Home Depot) Foundation to do great work in the community and for us to be able to house them here.”

The Home Depot Foundation partners with Team Rubicon as they volunteer after natural disasters across the country.

Ryan Ginty said he will remember the hundreds of interactions with community members.

A specific story involved putting a tarp on a woman's roof.

“We pulled into the Home Depot parking lot, looking to get tarps at Home Depot and it just happened as I was walking across, she was like, ‘Can you get any tarps, does Home Depot have any tarps?' I asked her what she needed and she just completely lost it, broke down,” Ginty said. “We were able to go over to this woman's house whose husband wasn't around and it took us all of 20 minutes to put this tarp on her roof and it just meant the world to her.

“That's one of the coolest things about it, just being able to help out.”