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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.

Team Rubicon
Voices From Alabama’s ‘Ground Zero’: Young Vets and Filmmakers Step In After the Storm
Take Part.com

At dawn, one week after deadly tornadoes ripped through the South, Scott Lederer and his filmmaking team watched the sun rise over the debris in Tuscaloosa—an Alabama town dubbed the ‘Ground Zero’ of the storm.

Scott, Gadi and Frederik Boll are part of Splashlife, a member-based network dedicated to helping young Americans improve their lives and serve others. In Tuscaloosa, the young crew documented the devastation and rebuilding efforts of a few courageous groups of military vets.

Young Team Rubicon veterans on the ground in Tuscaloosa. (Photo: Splashlife)

That first day on the ground, Scott was “absolutely overwhelmed” by how little was left standing.

The city blocks looked like they were full of huge “pickup sticks,” he says. “There weren’t structures anymore. It was like somebody took a bunch of two-by-fours, made a big landfill and then dropped cars and belongings on top of it.”

The team came across Ryan Munoz, a college student who was in his house when the storm hit. Ryan and his roommates managed to survive, but his home was completely demolished.

As they interviewed Ryan he stood in the center of where his house used to be and pointed at a Jeep lying upside down 200 yards away. He told TakePart that most of his bedroom was lying underneath that Jeep.

“His room literally moved to another block in the neighborhood,” Scott says of Ryan.

Moments after the storm, Ryan used his cell phone to document the damage. Here is that startling footage along with a moving interview.

After interviewing Ryan, Team Splashlife accompanied members of Campus Veterans Association as they delivered hot meals and cold water to people in the surrounding communities.

Campus Veterans Association is a group of veterans that provide support for one another after returning from deployment. Scott thought the vets would load up their trucks and deliver meals, but instead they walked on foot through each neighborhood meeting and delivering meals to anyone in need.

One compassionate vet in particular stood out to Scott. He told each and every person he met: “I’m happy that you are okay.”

After experiencing this, Scott wrote on his blog for Splashlife:

“While the tornadoes may have brought out the worst in nature and its ability to destroy, I am slowly beginning to realize it has also brought out some of the best qualities in the people that have responded.”

Scott and his team also went out with Team Rubicon—a relief organization that brings together returning vets to help victims in disaster zones. The former service members have mainly gone on international missions to countries like Haiti, Pakistan and Iraq, but when they saw the devastation in the South, they immediately hopped on a plane.

“The guys just dropped everything to come out,” Scott says.

TakePart asked Scott if he knew what Ryan, the young man they interviewed, was going to do next. He said he had some job leads in other cities and was looking forward to moving on.

Scott says, “He told us he couldn’t imagine coming back to where his house used to stand. ‘Every time I’d look at it, I’d have to live through this experience again,”‘ Ryan told them.

Stay tuned to TakePart for more ‘Rebuilding From Devastation’ coverage from Splashlife.