History and Culture

On Go Day, Answering the Call of Disasters Past and Future

With more than a decade under its belt, this veteran-led nonprofit looks at where it has been, and where it’s going

When Team Rubicon co-founder Jake Wood touched down in Haiti, which had just been rocked by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, 11 years ago he couldn’t imagine it was the beginning of a lifetime serving survivors of disasters. Nor could he have imagined that, over the course of a decade, the humble cadre of volunteers who joined him that day would swell to more than 138,000. He certainly didn’t imagine that what began as a drive to serve survivors of natural disasters would lead to a drive to feed Americans left hungry by the COVID-19 pandemic, send doctors and nurses to the Navajo Nation as it experienced one of worst outbreaks of the coronavirus anywhere, or that he’d be heading up an entire staff of veterans and civilians working to get the COVID-19 vaccine into thousands of arms.

It has been 11 years since that first deployment, a day known as Go Day at Team Rubicon. Here’s a look at where we’ve been—and where we’re going.

Earthquakes to the Pandemic, Countless Survivors Served

In the decade since that first Go Day, Team Rubicon has served thousands of disaster survivors domestically and internationally. As of Go Day 2021, Team Rubicon has responded to six earthquakes, 47 severe weather events, 56 hurricanes, 79 wildfires, 96 tornadoes, 132 floods, and conducted more than 330 operations in response to COVID-19.

Operations Go On, Even on Go Day

Disasters don’t take a holiday and neither do Greyshirts. In fact, Greyshirts have been deployed on January 13 many of the years since that 2010 launch. They were deployed in response to floods in three consecutive years—in Aberdeen, WA in 2015, in the St. Louis, MO area in ’16, and in Northern California in ’17—and were still on the scene in Texas in response to earlier tornadoes in ’15, and Hurricane Michael in ’18.

Greyshirts serve at a refugee camp in Greece in 2016.

Team Rubicon also deployed internationally to Greece in ’16, where volunteers provided primary medical care to refugees at a clinic in the northern part of the country.

Go Day in a Pandemic

If veteran and civilian Greyshirts don’t stop for natural disasters, they sure haven’t been taking a pandemic break. On Go Day 2021, hundreds of Greyshirts are deployed across the U.S., serving in emergency rooms at the Navajo Nation and helping distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in Nevada, Chicago, and in Tucson and Phoenix, AZ.

Greyshirts respond to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in Pennsylvania.

And that’s just the beginning. After serving more than 9.7 million people in 2020, Team Rubicon is gearing up to continue its service in the new year, whether that’s helping to get more Americans vaccinated or stepping up to serve in the wake of spring tornadoes.

“What started as a humble vision became an ambitious movement,” says Wood. “The impact this organization’s volunteers have had over the past 11 years is nothing short of extraordinary; and at a time when many Americans are feeling their confidence in the future of this country erode, I hope that Team Rubicon can give them reason to believe that America’s best days are still ahead of it.” 

Jake Wood in Haiti in 2010.