From June 20 to June 26, 19 Team Rubicon members conducted a recovery operation in East Cleveland, Ohio, to remove overgrowth and clear debris in an area plagued by urban blight. Incident Commander of Kaziemeras “Kazy” Urbonvicius said the team was assisted in their efforts by “20 spontaneous volunteers” (or neighbors who lived in the area) and by the end of the week, “nine 40-yard Dumpsters were filled with debris and an additional 700 yards of overgrowth were also removed by TR’s greyshirts.”
Operation Ray Chapman (named after the Cleveland Indians short stop who died in 1920 after being hit in the head with a pitch) was an important operation, according to Army veteran, social worker and TR volunteer Jess Johnson. “People in the community talked to us about how they felt overlooked by the politicians and the government and that their once-vibrant neighborhood is now in ruins.”
East Cleveland currently is home to 16,000 people. Within its limits, 122 commercial structures (out of 150) are now vacant and almost 50-percent of its houses are, too. Johnson loved that TR isn’t “waiting for disasters to occur. They are seeing a need, pinpointing it and going after it” in Ohio and in other states.
Operation Ray Chapman was Army veteran Benjamin Wisenbaugh’s first TR deployment. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, “But on the first day, I felt like I was with my people again. I felt at home.” Wisenbaugh said Shaw Street, the operation’s base, had eight to 10 apartment buildings including several burnt out, and that contractors and others used the area for a dumping ground. “We dug out big couches and more than 50 tires, and cleared dense foliage and cut down trees,” Wisenbaugh said, adding that a city employee with a front-end loader worked in conjunction with the team.
Michigan-based Wisenbaugh feels like he made a few lifelong friends during this operation, and would love to make TR his “full-time gig,” since he’s on full disability due to injuries sustained during three tours in Iraq. While in East Cleveland, he signed up for an upcoming patrol exercise in Wisconsin and sawyer classes. He plans to dedicate “free time not devoted to my kids or wife” to Team Rubicon so he can “kick ass and get things done.”
Johnson echoed how amazing the Operation Ray Chapman team worked together. “The TR Cleveland team has so much love for their city,” Johnson said. “They took us to Ray Chapman’s grave and Soldiers and Sailors Field. I want to be involved in the next phase of recovery in East Cleveland.”
Urbonvicius said that “the shirts on the ground truly made this operation successful….I am truly honored and humbled to have worked amongst a great group such as TR has.”
Operation Ray Chapman was part of the revitalization efforts of the East Cleveland Mayor’s Office in partnership with Cuyahoga County Land Bank. Team Rubicon is taking part in similar recovery operations in Detroit, Omaha and St. Louis, and sees urban blight as slow onset disaster that utilizes the same skills and tactics deployed in more-immediate disaster response.