Earning a Backstage Pass

Team Rubicon's former social media intern David Gamboa reflects on supporting behind-the-scenes wizardry of field operations before Typhoon Hagupit made landfall in the Philippines.

Think about the most recent natural disaster you kept up with. Now, remember those tweets you sent out with something along the lines of, “Thank you [insert non-profit here] for your help.” You tweet while sitting safely in the comfort of your own home. It’s easy to look at Team Rubicon and see an organization that does awesome things, like providing aid to communities affected by disasters and veterans transitioning back to civilian life.

It’s easy to see the culmination of work Team Rubicon’s accomplished over the past five years, and it’s easy to detach yourself from it all because it’s rather distant from your real life. As an individual, you see one face, one logo, and one large effort. After spending several months at TRHQ, I’ll request this:

The next time you thank an organization, think on it just a few seconds more because a lot more goes on than what you see.

It was early December 2014 when we got word Typhoon Hagupit was threatening the Philippines. I had only been on board for around three months. You could feel the tension rising in the office. Even more so in Suite 150 at HQ where the Field Operations team is housed. Strained eyes were a norm, yet there was also a certain level of excitement that I soon came to realize was needed. It kept you on your toes and your spirits high.

I was working on my day-to-day social media tasks when Planning Associate Evan Koepke asked for my help. He handed me two stacks of papers, one was about 80 pages long and the other was 110. The paper work encapsulated the Philippines National Disaster Response protocol which had recently been instituted. We didn’t know how it worked and where we fit into the puzzle so it was my job to figure that out in the next two hours. I completed the task, but it definitely required some Googling since military terms were quite foreign to me.


Planning Associate Evan Koepke debriefs HQ staff during large scale disasters.

Having never been behind the scenes of a disaster before, it was amazing to see the planning and effort that went into it. Membership Manager Pat Ross was gathering info on potential volunteers, Evan was closely tracking the storm’s path, Sparky (a tech-savvy volunteer from Region 4) was setting up a Palantir network, and I was creating a system of tracking social media shares around the Philippines so we could properly assess damage once Hagupit made landfall.

It was organized chaos. Hourly meetings, no sleep, minds racing, and phones going off. It was almost strange once we called off the operation due to a lack of support needed. It was a strange lull after all that momentum-building, but we were ever so glad the Philippines were, in large part, safe. I got to collaborate with some amazing minds. I learned a lot about military terms and operations. That was the night where I felt I was part of something bigger. I wasn’t in a full-scale operation, so I can’t say I completely know what it’s like, but I got to see the build up. The part that gets lost in the foreground. You take for granted how valuable friendly connections, good chemistry, and solid planning are.

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No stranger to volunteer service, David visited Port-Au-Prince, Haiti to watch the first baseball league created by a non-profit he helped grow after the earthquake in January 2010.

So next time you’re watching a disaster unfold, remember there’s more behind the scenes than saving people on the ground. It’s more than heroic rescues. Countless, tireless hours were worked to reach that point. You got to see five percent of it, and I suppose that’s how war is perceived. I’m only 21 and have no extremely strong ties to the military. Therefore, we see the returns home and the successful captures/retrievals, but we don’t know much about the rest. Us as civilians have a tendency to detach ourselves, much like how people detach themselves from the behind-the-scenes of natural disasters and the organizations that aid them.

My experience at TR was nothing short of amazing and eye-opening. I got to touch many facets of the organization and met many incredible veterans. They each taught me something unique. Some were soft spoken, some were brash but all were incredibly kind. I entered TR not knowing much about veterans issues other than what was constantly portrayed in the media and online, but I learned something incredible. They’re us. I salute all those who’ve served, are serving, and will serve. Next time you meet a veteran, thank and talk to them, perhaps buy them a coffee. Just as you would, they’d appreciate it very much.

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