The Norman Transcript

June 27, 2013

Veterans find relief helping Moore tornado victims, cleanup

By Arianna Pickard
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — For the city of Moore, it’s free tornado relief. For almost 400 U.S. military veterans, it’s an opportunity to put their training to use and continue helping people.

Made up mostly of military veterans, Team Rubicon volunteers arrived in Moore within 24 hours after the May 20 tornado, said Erica Chomsky, Team Rubicon public information officer. Shortly more than a month later, volunteers have performed more than 3,000 damage assessments and worked on nearly 400 homes.

Temporarily based in the Home Depot parking lot in Moore, Team Rubicon volunteers have come from all over the country to demolish 45 homes, remove heavy debris from more than 70 properties, mitigate damage on more than 50 homes and clear 300 acres of debris from Orr Family Farm.

Team Rubicon, headquartered in Los Angeles, was formed after a group of veterans traveled to Haiti to perform earthquake relief in 2010, Chomsky said. Since then, the nonprofit has grown and provided disaster relief all over the world.

When Cal Verdin retired after serving 20 years in the Army, he found difficulty and frustration relating to people who lack the level of discipline he acquired in the military.

He found relief working with fellow military veterans and serving his country once again 15 months ago when he joined Team Rubicon. He has now served 30 days as incident commander for the team’s “Operation: Starting Gun,” providing tornado relief in Moore.

Veterans have trouble adapting to life after the military because they lose the camaraderie and sense of initiative they adopt while they’re serving, Verdin said.

“All they know is that brotherhood they’ve established and that focused mission,” he said. “When they get out, they don’t have that. When they come back to their families and their friends back home, they don’t understand that.”

Many veterans feel the need to continue giving in some capacity, Verdin said. Veterans can fill that void by serving communities devastated by disaster.

“The affected community now gets immediate rapid response teams of veterans who are focused, mission-oriented and have tangible goals,” Verdin said.

And the people of Moore have not tried to hide their gratitude.

“It’s been amazing — the community here has been very receptive to us, very grateful,” he said.

“Operation: Starting Gun” volunteers wake up around 5 or 6 a.m. every day to spend seven or eight hours doing everything from raking leaves and cutting tree limbs to completely demolishing houses, Verdin said.

“Homeowners will come in now and say, ‘Thank you for getting this done. I can start rebuilding,’” he said. “That’s what people need as the homeowners, and that’s what the veterans need: to see immediate results from their work.”

After more than a month of service in Moore, Team Rubicon volunteers will move out Saturday, Chomsky said.

“(Volunteers) say, ‘Hey this was actually good, we did something for the families, the homeowners, the community.’ They don’t see that very much because usually they’re just following orders,” Verdin said. “But nobody makes people come here. Because there’s tangible results, it’s motivating. They want to come back.”