Snowbirds Volunteer on Hurricane Ian Response

Norman Corson

After getting to know the Florida Gulf Coast and the people affected by a 2018 hurricane, a Greyshirt couple decides to step into the arena when Ian strikes in 2022.

On occasion, your life gives you the gift of finding and working with new, unique, altogether wonderful people. This is one of the reasons often cited as a motivation to stay involved with Team Rubicon. In November of 2022, wave six of Operation Sunshine Strong—Team Rubicon’s response to Hurricane Ian—was the recipient of such a gift in the form of Bob and Shelly Kastler, part-time Florida residents who deployed on their first operation together in DeSoto County. 

Like many Greyshirts, the couple comes to Team Rubicon with military backgrounds: Bob was in the United States Army, and Shelly was in the Air Force. They are not, however, your typical snowbirds or empty nesters. Five years ago, when their two children, now 23 and 25, went off to college, the Kastlers were seeking to enrich their lives. Bob’s career as a pilot and environmental scientist and Shelly’s career as a physical therapist had not brought enrichment enough to feel fulfilled. In an effort to pursue change, they sold a large amount of material possessions and looked for a way to give back where they “could both bring something to the table.” Now, for six months a year, from April to November, the Kastlers live in Minnesota, enjoying the moderate climate of northern middle America. Then, from November to April, the couple spends time on their boat around the Florida coast. 

The Kastlers during Operation Sunshine Strong in Florida. Photo by Norman Corson.

Having gotten to know the landscape of the Florida Gulf Coast, the people, and the businesses when Hurricane Michael hit Panama City in 2018, Shelly and Bob knew when Hurricane Ian hit in 2022, it was their time to step into the arena. Trained up with ICS basic requirements, Shelly and Bob embarked on their first deployment in November, working on homes shredded and swamped with rain by Ian. Shelly tarped. Bob mucked. 

“We were so appreciative that the first day was on-site training,” Shelly explained. “Team Rubicon understood that there is more to training than the skills.” Being allowed to acclimate to the weather, wear the PPE, and be on-site while receiving the training allowed them to feel more comfortable. It gave them the confidence that they could accomplish any work order provided thereafter. 

Leaving the operation, the Kastlers figured that when they went back to Minnesota this year to change their socks, they’d go knowing they have been part of the mission of Team Rubicon and would look forward to inspiring others to step into the arena. But that wouldn’t happen as soon as expected. Instead, the couple returned to Team Rubicon’s Ian recovery operations. In December, just a week after demobilizing from the DeSoto County operation, the couple deployed to Lee County to serve on Sunshine Strong there. Just 10 days after they left that operation, they were on the ground in Charlotte County, helping homeowners there recover from Hurricane Ian. 

“TR does amazing things,” the couple said, citing a desire to remain engaged. Having the training and resources to help familiar people and places, the Kastlers are left feeling recharged. “I always feel that I get more out of helping people than the work that I am doing.”

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