From Team Retirement to Team Rubicon

Jonah Thompson

Superstorm Sandy gave Pete Wawrzonek another opportunity to serve and showed him that disasters can bring communities together.

As I reflect back on Operation Greased Lightning, I can’t help but recall my first conversations with Matt Pelak about Team Rubicon after my retirement from a New York Fire department. When Matt spoke about Team Rubicon, it was as if he was trying to covert me to a new found religion. He told me that Team Rubicon would respond to disasters and help folks in need. He spoke about it being a different disaster response organization where veterans, first responders, and civilians worked together to complete a mission. Teamwork was something that I had missed since retiring, for now the only team I was on was Team Retirement and at times I felt like I was the only member.


In late October, 2012, as Hurricane/Tropical storm Sandy hit the coast of New Jersey and New York, I received a call from Matt Pelak to help out and bring supplies to the Belle Harbor section of NYC. The following morning I left home with a bag of personal items and equipment and headed toward NYC.

I live 100 miles away from NYC and we didn’t even have a drop of rain from this storm, so I was shocked by what I found. As the ocean swept through, it left behind tons of sand. I was driving on the main road and it was covered with dunes. “This is nuts,” I thought. I had to put my truck into 4 wheel-drive to navigate a street, in NYC!


At our rendezvous point, I parked alongside the road where other TR members had gathered. I was amazed that men and women who I have never met were willing to pitch in as a team and get shit done! Regardless of sex, race, background, etc. we were all there for a common purpose and everyone contributed. As fast as wheelbarrows were constructed and shovels were extricated from the trailer, teams were formed and deployed to a location.

As much as I was surprised at the helpfulness and camaraderie within Team Rubicon, I was equally astonished to witnessed Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and others offering food and supplies to anyone in need outside a nearby Catholic Church. As much destruction as there was around us, goodness prevailed.

The destructive force of the ocean must have also destroyed the boundaries of hate and distrust, at least in this community and at this moment of time.


Every so often, I would travel home and try to unwind and take care of family business. I had difficulty when I was going home knowing that there was still work to be done and I had a warm fully functioning home and I knew of others didn’t. So I would end up heading back to the FOB sooner than originally expected. Things were going through my head that I had never experienced before. Today it is known as “Post Deployment Blues”.


For me, Operation Greased Lightning was not just was my first Team Rubicon deployment, it was a big learning experience. I was introduced to the many things that keep this organization running. The memories of the camaraderie, the teamwork, and the satisfaction of helping others in need will last my lifetime.

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