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Military veterans and medical professionals team help others rebuild after wildfires

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Mike Lee

Mike Lee, a native of Chicago, graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Creative Writing. At LMU, Mike developed international and domestic volunteer trips and served as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Student Veterans Organization. Mike’s professional background is in advertising and marketing, and has experience in executing large print and digital campaigns for non-profit and tourism clients. He lives in Los Angeles where he thinks a lot about dogs, bourbon, and the Chicago Bears.

It was 94 degrees before noon and the flies and gnats were out in force, but that didn’t seem to faze the group of athletic young men who had come to help those rebuilding after the Bastrop County Complex fire.

Formed in January 2010, Team Rubicon uses the skills and experiences of military veterans and pairs them with medical professionals working in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters. Volunteers have served in Haiti, Burma, Pakistan, Sudan and the U.S.

The team was in Bastrop recently assisting the Austin Council of St. Vincent de Paul and the Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group.

“This is one of our first long-term recovery missions, since, generally, we are on the scene right after the disaster,” said team leader Shane ValVerde, a Recon Marine and Army veteran who served in Afghanistan.

The team was working on Shawn Harris’ property northeast of Bastrop. Harris’ home and his mother’s home, just a few yards away, were destroyed in the wildfires.

Harris has already rebuilt his home, and attention is now focused on his mother’s temporary home.

The team was bolstering a patched-together electrical system his mother had been using while living in a trailer since the fire. Her home is next on the list to be rebuilt.

“This is exactly what we need to move forward,” Harris said, as the men dug a trench for running electricity underground. “For my mom, it means being able to turn on her stove and still have the A/C running at the same time.”

A second team was assisting at the home site of a Vietnam veteran in the southern part of the county, south of FM 812.

One of the team members was a non-veteran volunteer who had asked to join Team Rubicon.

“I saw a story about them on CNN and wanted to join,” said John Thomas, who works with the off-shore oil industry. “I flew in from Nigeria so I could work with these guys. They are a great group of guys.”

After a long day at work, team members had gathered at Bastrop’s American Legion Post 533 to be treated to barbecued chicken cooked by Legion Commander Ralph Sluder.

“We’ve never had local support quite like this,” ValVerde said. “The Bastrop community and the American Legion have been fantastic, feeding us.”

Legion members said it was the least they could do for other veterans who had come from far away to help those affected by the fires.

– Terry Hagerty
<a href=”http://www.statesman.com/news/local/military-veterans-and-medical-professionals-team-help-others-2402331.html?cxtype=rss_ece_frontpage”>Original Article on The Statesman</a>