Greyshirts Roll Out to Address Ignored Hurricane Survivors

Eric Dunn

"I thought of the family being disappointed a fourth time," says Greyshirt Eric Dunn, "I couldn't let that happen."


On any given day of a Team Rubicon operation, there are dozens of stories of volunteer teams working hard for those hurt worst by disaster. Sweat and bruises are the baseline around here.

Then, there are days that stand out from the rest, and on Op Crying Eagle in response to Hurricane Laura in Louisiana, my strike team and I had one of those days.

It was midweek in early November when our hybrid sawyer/roof tarping team was redirected to another site across town. No one was really sure why, but whispers trickled in we realized we weren’t the only team heading to the new location. As it turned out, the home we were headed to belonged to a Vietnam-era veteran, Mr. Tim, who desperately needed help.

When Hurricane Laura blew through here more than two months prior, Mr. Tim had been left with a partially crushed home surrounded by downed trees. More urgently, the pipes bringing water to his home had been damaged and were trapped under the house’s crushed portion and couldn’t be worked on until the toppled walls were cleared.

Three other volunteer groups had already been to Mr. Tim’s property, done their assessments, and promised they’d be back to help. None of them ever showed up. But then Team Rubicon got the call on a Wednesday afternoon, and by Thursday morning more than 30 Greyshirts were on the ground to help out a fellow veteran.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know as I geared up for the day, I thought of the family being disappointed a fourth time, and I couldn’t let that happen.

At the home, multiple sawyer teams, two heavy equipment units, and a dedicated muck-out crew had been tasked with helping Mr. Tim clear his property and sort through his personal belongings. All the trucks, trailers, and Greyshirts made it look like a Team Rubicon parade was staging on the family’s front lawn.

Trees were piled in every direction as if they had been picked up and thrown by a giant. The piles of storm debris were so dense that sawyers had to plan with other teams on where they could safely work. To guide teams around the property, we spray painted red lines on the ground, marking boundaries of movement for the heavy equipment teams.

Then, we got to work. Heavy equipment vehicles, chainsaws, and pure muscle went at it for hours. Big trees became piles of bucked limb and sawdust. The family’s belongings were pulled out from the partially collapsed addition and stored safely so work could be done. Walls were knocked down and pathways were opened up across the property. There was a consistent flow of noisy, tracked machines grabbing debris and moving it to the street, clearing Hurricane Laura’s damage one claw grab after another.

Midway through our workday, I approached the site lead and asked if our team could help on a big tree the other sawyer teams were already assigned to. During the conversation he mentioned something I couldn’t believe: The initial estimate to clear the property was two to three days. I looked around and realized all of the most significant trees were already on the ground and limbed. The dangerous widow makers hanging from standing trees were safely cut down and piled for the heavy equipment operators to pick up. We accomplished multiple days’ work in just a few hours.

I felt proud looking across the property and seeing Mr. Tim standing on his porch gazing at a yard he hadn’t seen in months.

Three teams of Greyshirts worked in such an orchestrated fashion all day long, fluidly moving around each other to accomplish their tasks, each group trying to find ways to make it easier for the others. There was an unspoken commitment to the mission and Mr. Tim that day. No one complained, no one slacked, it was 100% across the board from start to finish. But by far, the most important thing we accomplished was giving his family a little piece of normalcy back—a new foothold on their property to begin their recovery. A starting point to finally put the storms in their rearview.

These are the days and stories you share around the campfire with new Greyshirts and the reason I’m proud to be a part of this Tribe.

-Eric Dunn, Greyshirt and Clay Hunt Fellow 


  • Reflection

    A Better Tomorrow

    A volunteer responding to tornadoes in Ohio gets a glimpse at the hidden value of the work Greyshirts do.

  • Preparedness

    How to Prepare Your Pets for Disaster

    From leashes for Fido to carriers for Kitty, here are our top disaster preparedness for pets tips to add to your emergency planning now.

  • Feature Story

    Serving World Health Means Innovating

    From Haiti to Ukraine, for World Health Day, we look at where we've delivered disaster relief and humanitarian aid over the past 14 years, and how far we have to go.

Read More Stories