A Dozen Years of Disaster Relief—and Go Days

Julie H. Case

On the anniversary of its founding, this disaster relief nonprofit looks at some of the biggest, and most course-changing, disasters and operations in its history.

It was 12 years ago today that Jake Wood, Team Rubicon’s co-founder, watched in horror as the people of Haiti reeled under the force of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. In that moment he made a plan: He would go. He would go to Haiti, taking skills and experience earned in the Marine Corps with him, and find a way to render aid. 

It’s a day now known as Go Day at Team Rubicon, the veteran-led disaster relief nonprofit that emerged out of that initial deployment. 

Wood and his cohort of founding responders never could have imagined that that Go Day would lead to the creation of one of the most zealous disaster relief organizations in the U.S. Nor that 12 years on Team Rubicon would be responding to everything from earthquakes and tornadoes to a pandemic. 

As Team Rubicon celebrates the anniversary of Go Day, here’s a look at some of the biggest and most impactful disaster relief operations in the nonprofit’s 12-year history. 

Deadliest U.S. Disaster Responded To: Hurricane Maria

In September of 2019, the Category 4 Hurricane Maria made landfall in southeast Puerto Rico. High winds caused widespread devastation to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, while extreme rainfall—up to 37 inches—caused flooding and mudslides across the island. One of the deadliest storms to impact the U.S., Hurricane Maria cost nearly 3,000 people their lives. 

Go Day, Operation Coqui Calling: September 30, 2017

In the wake of the hurricane, Team Rubicon deployed more than 225 volunteers—or Greyshirts—who supported the distribution of medical supplies and necessities in coordination with local and state authorities, conducted community needs assessments in coordination with FEMA, and provided debris removal and chainsaw operations with assistance from local volunteers.

Then, in 2018, 130 Greyshirts returned to conduct further debris management, sawyer operations, muck-outs, and expedient home repair, like tarping damaged roofs. 

The Disaster Response That Deployed the Most Volunteers: Hurricane Harvey

When Category 4 Hurricane Harvey—to date the second-costliest natural disaster in U.S. history at $141.3 billion in damages—made landfall near Rockport, TX, in August of 2017 it brought with it massive flooding, displacing more than 30,000 people and damaging or destroying more than 200,000 homes and businesses.

Go Day, Operation Shallow Draft: August 28, 2017

In the immediate aftermath of Harvey, local Greyshirts began conducting floodwater rescue operations in Harris and Galveston Counties. It was in the weeks and months following that Greyshirts really dug in as Team Rubicon launched its largest core operation to date: Operation Hard Hustle.

Go Day, Operation Hard Hustle: August 29, 2017

Over the course of 97 days, Team Rubicon deployed 1,955 Greyshirts, who served 135,962 volunteer hours conducting debris removal and chainsaw operations and providing expedient home repairs like mucking homes and tarping roofs. 

Coming second and third for core operations with the most Greyshirts deployed are Operations Amberjack—the response to Hurricane Michael in 2018—with 1,115 volunteers deployed over 157 days and Operation Crying Eagle, where 601 Greyshirts deployed to Lake Charles, LA, in 2020 in response to Hurricane Laura. 

The Operation That Served the Most Homeowners

Not only were more Greyshirts deployed on Team Rubicon’s Hurricane Harvey response than any other to date, those Greyshirts also served the most homeowners in one operation. 

Go Day, Operation Hard Hustle: August 29, 2017

In all, volunteers completed 1,078 work orders during Operation Hard Hustle. 

The Disaster That Turned Relief Into Recovery

It was while helping clean up from Hurricane Harvey that the disaster relief nonprofit realized there was more it could do: it could help people recover from disasters, too. So, in 2018 Team Rubicon launched Rebuild in Houston and committed to rebuilding 100 homes for low-income families by 2020. 

Go Day, Rebuild Houston: April 1, 2018

Multiple Rebuild Go Days have been spawned since, and today Team Rubicon has four active Rebuild programs: In Houston, 113 homes have been rebuilt, two are under construction, and three are ready for construction; in the Gulf Coast, which was hit by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020, six homes have been rebuilt and 11 are upcoming; in Haines, AK, two homes impacted by a landslide in 2021 have been approved for rebuild, and in Selma, AL, which was hit by a tornado in 2021, five homes have been approved and four homes have had roofs installed. Team Rubicon has also completed rebuild operations in Florida’s Collier County, after Hurricane Irma.

The Humanitarian Crises that Changed Future Go Days

While Wood and colleagues may have envisioned a future of serving disaster relief around the country and world, they likely didn’t imagine they’d someday be responding to humanitarian crises at home. That changed in 2020.

A Pandemic at Home and Abroad

When COVID-19 hit, Team Rubicon was determined to find a way to serve.

First COVID-19 Go Day, Operation Kick the King, Food Support: March 18, 2020

First COVID-19 Go Day, Operation Kick the King, Health & Medical: March 22, 2020

Soon, the organization was stepping outside its traditional roles of responding to disasters and standing up testing clinics across the U.S., tapping its volunteers to deliver food and water to at-risk individuals at home, and sending medical providers and Greyshirts to the Navajo Nation to serve alongside Indian Health Services. Then, when the vaccine arrived the organization mobilized its volunteers to help get the vaccine delivered. 

To date, Team Rubicon-supported sites have administered more than 1.6 million vaccines. 

A Refugee Crisis on U.S. Soil

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in 2021 and a wave of Afghan refugees began arriving in the U.S., Team Rubicon jumped in to help.

First Resettlement Go Day, Operation Eagle Landing: August 28, 2021

First Greyshirts supported the management of donated goods at seven military bases housing Afghan refugees in New Jersey, Indiana, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

In August, Greyshirts began helping setup of housing units—to date, more than 125 homes—for the newly arrived Afghan families in Denver, CO. 

Now, Team Rubicon volunteers are beginning to help families transition off bases and into communities in Minneapolis, Denver, Dallas, Arlington and Alexandria, Northern Virginia, Sacramento and San Diego, New York, and Detroit and Lansing, MI. 

Since the initial Go Day in 2012, Team Rubicon has launched 996 operations in response to disasters and humanitarian crises—each with its own resulting Go Day, and each enhancing the way the disaster relief nonprofit serves. 

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