Serving the Makers and Builders in Detroit

Vince Battaglia

A team of Greyshirts and Ford employees came to help homeowners clean up from years-old flooding, only to discover they would be the ones to benefit most.

I was in Detroit for the better part of Operation Wild Stallion, Team Rubicon’s response to flooding in the city that happened all the way back in 2021. During most of my time, I served as deputy logistics section chief but had the opportunity to get out to the field on Friday, April 21, as part of a strike team. There were nine of us on the team: three TR volunteers—Greyshirts—and six volunteers from Ford. Stepping out of the FOB that morning, the weather was a bit dreary and cold, but the whole team was ready to rock. This is a tale of three homes that we visited within a few miles of each other in the Motor City that day. 

The first place we arrived at had suffered from water damage caused by roof leaks in addition to the damage from the flooding. We noticed some mold on the ceiling; then, we went to the basement only to find a massive amount of mold blocking our path. It was beyond our capabilities, so we made note of the need for remediation before cleanup could begin. It was heartbreaking not to be able to help that day, but it turns out another team of Greyshirts was able to help the homeowner out a few days later.

The second home we arrived at was in a neighborhood that seemed to have been forgotten or overlooked. The home had a flooded basement and several other issues. The flooding was more than two years ago, but it was only now that the family was finally getting some help. 

Beyond the flooding in the basement, there was a hole in the roof that was causing additional leakage from what we could see in a short walk around. The owner was delighted to see us; he was tired-looking and definitely needed help to clean up the basement and get his roof repaired. 

We started with work in the basement which was pretty dirty—that happens in a flood—and had a lot of tools about. From what I could tell, it looked like this was the home of a mechanic. The tools were those of a working man: wrenches, drill bits, pliers, tools to build things with—the lifeblood of Detroit.

Mucking a basement that flooded in 2021 in Detroit in 2023.

Together, we three Greyshirts and the six Ford employees went to work on the basement. We cleared the tools and moved them, the washer, and some spare wheels out to the back of the house for safekeeping. We took out two trash bags full of dirt and muck scraped up from the floor, tore down a makeshift room with warped plywood walls, and threw out the mattress and the plywood. Finally, we swept the floor and filled another trash bag with more screws and nails. 

We left the basement TR clean and noted in the site log that this house needed a tarp team to follow up and stabilize the roof. The father and his son were amazed and thanked us for coming to help them.

The second home was about a mile away. The neighborhood was totally different: less forgotten, it seemed. 

We were greeted at the door by the owner, an older woman. She invited us in after we told her who we were, but we stopped just inside the door and explained that our shoes were dirty and we did not want to track dirt on her beautifully clean white rug! Still, this nice person invited us through her living room to her kitchen and then down to see her basement, which was clean and furnished. Still, there was furniture and carpeting that had been damaged in the flood of two years prior. So, the team got together and moved fish tanks, a TV, a sofa, a washer, and a China closet from her basement to her garage. She was beaming with delight and was just bubbling that someone had finally come to help her. Her big request, though, was to remove all the carpet so she could get it replaced, which we did before bidding her goodbye. There was such a difference between the situations: one home had clearly received help of some sort in the past two years; the other had been neglected.

Through all of this, the Ford folks were right in there and did not miss a beat. You’d never have known they weren’t seasoned Greyshirts who had been through Core Ops before. The gals were regular “tool ladies” and were good at using hammers and crowbars for the demo work as well as hauling out anything that could be picked up, even some things with roaches and spiders visibly crawling on them. 

My heart was in tears for the residents of the first two homes, especially. You could see that, with a little support, they could have been in better shape, too. But they hadn’t gotten it. But, now, after a bunch of mucking and hauling, sweeping floors and tearing up carpet, we’d been able to get these Detroiters to a better place. 

Overall, everyone came away with more than they started with: We came to give but ended up receiving.

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