A Better Tomorrow

Larry Heins

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

When a severe storm swept through the Midwest on March 15, 2023, it produced tornadoes across multiple communities. Among the hardest hit was Logan County, OH, where an EF-3 tornado touched down and caused extensive damage. So, when Team Rubicon stood up Operation Chevy to the Levee there to provide muck outs, chainsaw operations, debris removal, and roof tarping to impacted residents, I packed my Go Bag and headed south.  

We were doing site surveys on Alexander Road near Galena, OH, a week after the storm. As I finished one survey, the homeowner told me of an older couple who lived down the road and were in desperate need of help. The homeowner mentioned that the female occupant of the house was ill.

We immediately went to the house, and the desperate need she spoke of was obvious. The amount of wind damage to the trees was massive and probably the worst I have seen in more than 20 deployments. We had to park a ways from the house and walk in as the driveway was blocked in not one but two locations by downed trees. As we approached the house, I observed a large tree blown down and flush against the side of the home.

I made contact with the resident, Sandra, who was home alone. Based on personal experience, it was evident she had cancer and was going through treatments. I’d seen it before, with my wife, and knew the look. My heart went out to her right there. Here she was fighting her own personal fight in the house, and then this tornado touches down outside of it. 

I introduced myself and explained what Team Rubicon was and the services we provide at no cost to the homeowner, and Sandra invited us in. I asked her how she was feeling, and Sandra replied that she felt okay but had missed her last two treatments at the Cleveland Clinic because of the storm damage. I explained to Sandra that she would be a high priority for Team Rubicon because of the accessibility issues the storm had caused. I also told her that Team Rubicon has a special place in its heart for veterans and first responders. Sandra then told me her husband, Tim, is a Vietnam combat veteran.

Access to and egress from Sandra’s home wasn’t the only problem: there was water damage to the drywall in her basement from the tornado, she said. I checked the extent of the damage, and it was evident that the drywall on the ceiling and the walls would have to be removed.

When I told Sandra these were all things Team Rubicon could handle, at no cost to her, she expressed how grateful she was. She had been trying to get some help since the tornado struck a week prior, but no one had done anything yet.

The paperwork was completed, and as we got ready to leave, Tim arrived home. I explained Team Rubicon to him and shared some history about the organization. Tim told me he was a combat veteran in Vietnam in 1970 and shared with me that to this day, and on a daily basis, the war still haunts him. Before leaving, I supplied Tim and Sandra with contact numbers for the FOB and Crisis Clean Up, and also told them someone from Team Rubicon would be in contact with them in the immediate future.

The couple was to be our first stop the next day. However, when our ops chief contacted Sandra to set things up, there was some confusion. Sandra was being told by her claims adjuster not to do anything to the house until he had a chance to survey it, so she asked if we could hold off for a bit. The real issue was the claims adjuster had been promising to stop by for days. They had yet to show up.

Our Incident Commander, Nicolle Barrow, and ops chief, Nick Edwards, were having none of it. In true Team Rubicon form, they made contact with local officials and the insurance company to clear up any issues. Soon, all parties came to an agreement, and Team Rubicon responded in force. And though I had to watch from afar due to a cold that took me off the op, Greyshirts descended upon Sandra and Tim’s residence. Outside, they cleared the downed trees that were causing accessibility issues and opened up access to the house so Sandra could get to and from her appointments. Inside, they mucked out the basement and left it TR Clean. 

As for me, what I realized while typing this reflection is that Team Rubicon not only brings desperately-needed services—such as sawyer work, debris removal, and muck outs to people in need of help—but Greyshirts also bring hope to these same people for a better tomorrow.

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