59716 Volunteer - Camaraderie of purpose

Civilians and military veterans across Montana help victims of disasters
“So many people who would love to do this kind of thing are seasonal workers. We get a lot of leadership coming in and out but for a limited time,” Scott said. “We're willing to work with that.”

Across Montana folks are loading up their “go bags” and heading to the airport. They are deploying to California to assist with cleanup efforts after the wildfires, and to Alaska to help after the earthquake. As long as sweat equity is promised by volunteers, room, board and flights are provided by Team Rubicon – a non-profit with the tagline, “Disasters are our business; veterans are our passion.” 

TR is a military veteran-led disaster relief volunteer organization with grit, and they welcome non-military to the team as well. 

The military veterans and civilians have a common goal: to find purpose through helping others.

“We really love our kick-ass civilians. The only thing is if you are not military, you have to have a lot of tolerance for people who are driven and have a lot of bad language,” said Anne Marie Scott, TR's volunteer Montana state planning coordinator. 

While many disaster relief organizations are religious by nature – TR is not. 

“We are open to anyone,” Scott said. Even the required background check can have a few marks on it – ultimately safety is the concern – guarding against violent offenses. Misdemeanors and nonviolent infractions aren't an issue. 

Scott has been with TR since 2014, after leaving a 20-year career with the U.S. Airforce.

“It gives me that sense of community; that sense of teamwork,” she said. “A lot of civilians say the same thing after a mission.”

The organization’s website states, “By engaging our veterans in continued service through disaster response, not only does Team Rubicon provide relief to affected communities, but many veteran volunteers begin to regain the purpose, community, and identity that is difficult to find upon leaving the armed forces.”

Volunteers – known as “gray shirts” in TR lingo – take three online classes: one through TR and two through the Federal Emergency Management Association. Then, a background check is performed and if clearance is provided, volunteers are ready for deployment. Further training and certifications are available which can increase the opportunity for deployment– like chainsaw operation. An email is sent with flight waves and gray shirts let team leaders know if they are available to work. 

Gray shirts need to be ready to work – and work hard. 

“We are always looking for people who are willing to do the logistics of things,” Scott said. “We love to have people who want to get out there and shovel sand or run a chainsaw, but we also have positions for people who are not capable of doing that heavy lifting.”

The connection and feeling of accomplishment are absolutely worth the sweat equity, Scott said before cautioning that volunteers need to be ready for the intensity of emotion that comes from interacting with survivors. Helping people who have barely escaped a disaster alive or who are sorting through meager physical representations of their lives in destroyed homes can be intense. 

“If you have any interest in getting involved, you really want to get involved ahead of the disaster. It's far better if you get affiliated with a disaster organization before so you can be ahead of the game. If you do that, you are so much more useful,” she said. 

Scott, who was just in the southern U.S. with TR last month, said TR is scaling back there and picking-up operations in California for fire cleanup.

“We're taking volunteers to do the rebuilding all the time and that will probably continue the next year,” she said. 

TR gray shirts help regionally, nationally and worldwide.

TR’s Operation Seelin Swan occurred in May this year in the Seeley Lake region near Missoula as the area was faced with “record snowpack, rising temperatures and heavy rain.” They set up an operation to fill and stage sandbags to mitigate flooding of communities.

Scott said the operation had a tremendous economic impact on the area with minimal financial investment because of the multitude of volunteers. “That was a tremendous success,” she said. “The community really stepped-up. There is no way we could have done what we did without so many volunteers.” 

Scott said they are looking for more volunteers and leadership in the Bozeman and Big Sky area.

“So many people who would love to do this kind of thing are seasonal workers. We get a lot of leadership coming in and out but for a limited time,” she said. “We're willing to work with that.”

For more information visit www.teamrubiconusa.org.

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