LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Ten years ago, a small group of marines and first responders went to Haiti to help those in need after the earthquake.
Now, over 130,000 volunteers are responding to natural disasters all over the country, including Louisiana.
Team Rubicon, a veterans and first responder-based non-profit organization for disaster relief, hit the ground running since Hurricane Laura and Delta.
The NGO has an operation center at Burton Coliseum where they hold a “tactics meeting," to figure out the next day’s operational period, which means figuring out the number of personnel, where strike teams will go and what kind of vehicles are needed to help a survivor of disaster.
“Our job is to get in there quick and provide those things like debris removal, road clearance, taking trees off of homes, providing access, tarping of roofs, things of that nature,” Robert Obernier, incident commander for Team Rubicon said. “Every day, we have strike teams of personnel ranging anywhere from four to eight depending on the mission. We have heavy equipment operators that are here as well.”
One of the teams include sawyers, which are chainsaw operators.
On Friday, three strike teams on Parker Road in Sulphur cut trees that littered the area, blocking homes and leaning on top of cars.
“We’re bucking and limbing about 8-10 trees right now,” Darin Touw said.
Normally, there’s one chainsaw team and one heavy equipment team, but because the job site was so big, they needed a team of about 12 people.
Touw said an elderly woman couldn’t get to her house because of all the trees.
Touw’s been with the team for 7 to 8 years, joining after 20 years of military service.
“I started working a job. But it just was a job, and I needed a sense of purpose,” Touw said. “So I joined Team Rubicon.”
Obernier says around 80 percent of Team Rubicon are veterans, and the manual labor can be therapeutic for veterans who served for years.
“It’s a dual service, right. It’s a dual purpose," Obernier said. "By getting to help those affected by a disaster, we are helping us, ourselves. I’m a veteran as well, I’m a Navy veteran. It’s giving us that sense of service, purpose and mission again that we had when we were in the military. We’ve got so many veterans after 15 years in combat. When we get out, it’s like “Okay, now what?” Some of us find that “what,” and others don’t, and that’s what one of our missions is here at Team Rubicon.”
For Touw, the seven to eight days of working keeps him sane. Touw has cut trees since 1982 and said he likes to mentor new team members, who volunteer for a week at a time.
“It keeps me in a good place," Touw said. “I feel better at the end of the day working on one person’s home than I do working for six months out of the year. Just a shine of thanks from [people in need] is payment in full.”
Crisis cleanup benefiting both sides.
“A lot of these people, this is the worst thing they’ve ever gone through is either tornado or hurricane, something like that, and they don’t know where to start,” Touw said. “So what we do is we come along and help them get started in that process of either trying to rebuild or regroup and restart again. I hope to continue to play a part until they tell me I have to leave."
Team Rubicon plans to stay in the Lake Area for the rest of the month, but there are other non-governmental organizations working in crisis cleanup, which you can call at 800-451-1954.
To donate or volunteer for Team Rubicon, click here. Obernier said you don’t have to be a veteran or first-responder to join.