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Columbia residents receive assistance from Team Rubicon

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Bobbi Snethen

Bobbi hails from Madison, WI, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin where she studied journalism and strategic communication. Following a stint as a freelance reporter, she served as a public relations professional in the nonprofit sector working to enhance community service through storytelling and online engagement.

By Haskel Burns, Hattiesburg American Staff Writer

On Wednesday, Mark Motley was one of the hundreds of Columbia residents still picking up the pieces from the devastation left by the Dec. 23 EF3 tornado that tore through the area.

As with the other storm victims, it’s been a rough week-and-a-half of cleanup and recovery for Motley, whose more-than-100-year-old home on Beets Road was hit by several tall pine trees during the storm.

“I restored it all from salvaged hard pine wood and kept it all true to nature,” said Motley, who moved into the home about two years ago. “I wanted to try to keep the historical registration. But now, I think I need some more hard pine.”

But Motley, who lost about 30 or 40 trees on his acre-and-a-half property, and other home and business owners are not alone in their recovery efforts.

For the next several days, Columbia residents will be assisted by members of Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster relief organization based in El Segundo, California. As part of its “Operation: Saw Humbug,” about 25 Team Rubicon members — alongside local volunteers and partnering emergency management agencies — arrived Christmas Day in Marion County to assist residents with debris removal and cleanup.

“One of the skill sets that we have being from the military — and I spent 25 years in the fire service in Tallahassee (Florida) — we can put things together and coordinate things,” Team Rubicon Region 4 Administrator Bob Obernier said.

“And it’s twofold — when you get out of the military and careers as first responders, one of the things we miss in life is that sense of mission, purpose and service. Our organization brings that back. We’ve got a lot of veterans that … find it difficult to reintegrate into civilian life, and we provide that reintegration.”

Members of Team Rubicon, who are staying at Woodlawn Church on U.S. 98 in Columbia, are organized into three strike teams in the Columbia area. The organization can provide professional sawyers, home demolition experts and heavy equipment — some offered from other organizations — to help get storm victims back on the path to a regular life.

“I’m a professional arborist in Memphis, so I suppose you could say this is (my specialty),” said Team Rubicon volunteer Shannon Derouen, who spent Wednesday using his chainsaw to cut down broken trees on Motley’s property.

“Team Rubicon is all about helping others, and we want to (emphasize) that mission. This is my 30th disaster response, with and without Team Rubicon. I’ve been all over the country and even internationally, and it’s just good work that’s getting done.”

Jamie Fields, a Team Rubicon volunteer from Tennessee, spent Wednesday doing a little bit of everything at Motley’s property, including demolition, debris cleanup, navigation and roof repair. That’s a lot of work by any stretch of the imagination, but for volunteers like Fields, the desire to help comes naturally.

Team Rubicon volunteer Jamie Fields of Tennessee clears debris at a home that suffered tornado damage in Columbia Wednesday. (Photo: Eli Baylis/Hattiesburg American)
Team Rubicon volunteer Jamie Fields of Tennessee clears debris at a home that suffered tornado damage in Columbia Wednesday. (Photo: Eli Baylis/Hattiesburg American)

“We’re just trying to get everybody back to a functioning place,” Fields said. “I’m a humanitarian by heart. I could very well, easily be one of these people, and I know if I was in their position, I would want someone else to lend a helping hand.

“It makes me feel better to know that I can help ease some of that chaos that’s been in their life and turned it upside down.”

For Motley, an Army veteran, it’s just another example of members of the military joining together like family.

“Having been in the military myself, (this) is exceptional, but it’s also normal,” he said. “That’s just our military; this is what our military does. Once you’re in, you’re always in.”