In 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast of the United States, causing significant flooding and power outages throughout New York and New Jersey.
New Yorkers William Caruso and Paul Friedman had no idea the destruction and devastation of the hurricane would lead them both to a group of veterans, first responders, and civilians working together as part of Team Rubicon.
Paul Friedman, an Army Veteran who served in the Vietnam War, did not wait for instructions or appeals for help before taking action after Hurricane Sandy. He immediately packed his car with all the creature comforts he knew that hurricane survivors would need in the immediate stages of post-disaster recovery.
“When it comes to getting things done and serving others, I don’t want to waste a minute. I want to get to work right away,” Paul said, a sentiment familiar to anyone who has had the honor of working with him. When he arrived in Rockaway, Long Island, he asked those on the ground where he could be of greatest service. They pointed him in the direction of Team Rubicon’s “FOB” (Forward Operating Base). “I remember responding with, ‘what the hell is a FOB?’”
Paul, recently recognized as Team Rubicon’s 2016 Veteran Volunteer of the Year, deployed to his first few Team Rubicon operations as a spontaneous volunteer, and then became an official Greyshirt.
I wanted to be a part of this. When disasters strike, many people want to help, want to do something, but you get turned away at every stop. I’ve been actively looking for an opportunity to serve since September 11, 2001, and I’ve finally found it.
At Operation Seymour Action in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Paul wasn’t the only New Yorker venturing down south to help those in need. Three-time Tough Mudder participant Will Caruso boarded a plane – for the first time in his life – to deploy to North Carolina. Will first heard about Team Rubicon directly from CEO Jake Wood at a Tough Mudder event in Long Island in 2015. He was instantly captivated by Jake’s description of the camaraderie and support volunteers provided one another through service projects and deployments.
This October, Will joined Jon Connors and other Region II volunteers for his first Team Rubicon activity: rebuilding homes lost after Hurricane Sandy. Jon explained to Will that Team Rubicon helps those that cannot help themselves. Will said, “ I saw this as an opportunity to do more, and to be more. I finished all my training in one day – including some optional courses, and five days later, had the opportunity to deploy.”
When asked how he would describe his first deployment, Will says, “I was immediately struck by how real and raw it all is. It is humbling to meet a homeowner who has lost everything and is still so upbeat and glad to see us, when they could rightfully be bitter or angry. They are genuinely happy to have you there.”
After spending his first day helping to remove flood-soaked insulation and ductwork from a crawlspace – a novelty for someone from New York – Will says, “This is where I belong.”
Paul and Will both have words of advice to pass on to potential Greyshirts: “Get on the computer. Get your training done. And get prepared to make a move when you’re ready.” Will adds, “You won’t get an experience like this anywhere else – from meeting teammates that have your back to helping to restore hope to some of the kindest and most appreciative individuals you’ll ever meet. You will not feel like an outsider. There’s no separation of military, civilian, first responder. This is family.”