MOBEX Trigger

Team Rubicon, Habitat for Humanity test disaster response skills, hope to team up in times of crisis

Bear with me - this will probably be long, disjointed, and long. Also, my hard drive on my regular computer died so I am typing this on an old Dell Latitude 620 that I've not used since...2007 (?) and I am no longer familiar with the touchpad so I have kind of given up on arranging the pictures in any semblance of chronological order. I think I'll type out the post and then caption the pictures at the end of it all. 

Isaiah 6:8 says, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

I sat at dinner that last night in Omaha with dozens of my new framily (friends who are family...just call me Shakespeare), many of whom have served multiple tours in really crappy places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of whom deal with things like traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and other injuries that you may or may not see. They sat there, eating lasagna after having busted their butts working the weekend with Omaha's Habitat for Humanity helping to turn multiple run-down, dilapidated properties into stunning homes for deserving people. These men and women who have already given so damned much took time away from their families, their jobs, their lives to give MORE. And they'd do it again tomorrow if the need arose.

To say that I was humbled would be an understatement. I was blown away by their selfless service, their willingness to drop everything and help their neighbor, and their humility. It leaves me gobsmacked.

MOBEX Trigger (MOBEX stands for 'mobilization exercise') was a first-of-its-kind collaboration between Team Rubicon and Habitat for Humanity, Omaha. It was a mock disaster that allowed TR to bring new members up to speed on how they do things in a real disaster - damage assessment, light demo, safety procedures, chainsaw usage, etc. As if helping those affected by a disaster isn't enough, this exercise allowed TR members to give even more back to the community by allowing them to assist Habitat with some of the FIFTY (50!) homes they plan to rehab or rebuild in the SE Omaha area this year alone. This event was a test-run of a partnership that has incredible possibilities nationwide. I can't wait to see what comes of it.

I was really nervous heading into this. I've loved TR from the get-go but I was completely unsure as to what I had to offer. My fears were completely unfounded. From the moment I arrived on Friday, I was welcomed and put to work. It didn't matter that I wasn't a veteran, that I'm not (yet) an EMT, that I have no construction or demolition experience, that I've never done any of this before. None of that mattered. The only things that mattered were that I was there and that I was willing.

Friday was spent getting signed in, getting an ID card made, getting settled in lodging, and walking through the ins and outs of damage assessment, the technical platform TR uses for said assessment (Palantir), and how to lead a strike team as well as meeting everyone. The entire process went smoothly. One of the things that TR excels at is bringing order to chaos and it was incredibly evident. You could tell that thought had been put into every detail, yet the process was flexible and allowed for changes in schedule when necessary.

The Salvation Army provided lodging at one of their community centers and I set my cot up in the chapel. I was there pretty early and managed to find an outlet to plug my laptop into so I could keep it and my phone charged. There were about 20 of us sleeping in the chapel (6 of whom snore like freight trains), with the rest of the volunteers in the main gym. They took really good care of us, once someone remembered to turn the hot water on for the showers! The Salvation Army also provided meals on site at the HFH locations so this was an opportunity for their people to get in on some of the training as well. 

Saturday we rallied at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) and received our team assignments as well as briefings on how the day would unfold. It was a little chaotic but that didn't seem to slow anyone down and soon we were meeting with our strike teams. My team lead was MT - this kick-ass Hispanorusky (yep - another new term) from Detroit. Supposedly he's some stud Ranger/medic/what-have-you but really he's just a goofball that likes to sing off key and wields a mean sledgehammer along with possessing a wonderful knowledge of how to dismantle just about anything. Maybe that plays into the Ranger thing.

I don't know.

He spent the entire day on Sunday talking in a pseudo-Russian accent like Lev Andropov from the movie, "Armageddon" ("
American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN! "). He had us in stitches (not literally. I'm pretty sure he was the only one to bleed all weekend long) all day.

We worked alongside another team whose leader, K, was just as entertaining, just as skilled, and just as wonderful. And he lives in one of my favorite states in the country (Colorado) so now I have even more of a reason to head back there at my first opportunity - I need to buy the man a beer!

The rest of the team was incredible too. I learned so much from each of them and we had a blast demo'ing the basement (and finding 1970s homemade nudie pictures!), pulling off baseboards, hauling out four giant dumpsters of garbage (the right one is for metal only!), donning Tyvek suits for more demo of the basement (yay mold!), picking up 11,867 nails from the aluminum siding they were ripping off and a dead raccoon, eating hotdogs (without mayo!), and generally working our butts off. Oh, and drinking lots of water and Gatorade.

We wrapped up late in the afternoon and headed back to the FOB to drop off our tools and then back to the Salvation Army to clean up before dinner. Dinner was BBQ back at the FOB and the 'beer flag' was raised, meaning everyone could have two beers. TR loves to party as hard as they work but they do so just as safely as they work. Designated drivers were already identified and the beer wasn't the cheap stuff (well, there was some Miller Lite and PBR but they also had some local brews too). It was great to hang out with my new framily and just kind of decompress. 

We crashed out pretty hard Saturday night and we were up again bright and early Sunday to do it all again. We were looking forward to swinging some sledgehammers and tearing into the ceilings and walls but when we got there, we found that we needed to do some other things so we didn't get to do much with the sledgehammers. Maybe next time. I did get to learn how to pull out a fiberglass shower insert which should come in handy when we're ready to redo our upstairs bathroom.

We shut down a bit early on that day in order to head back to the FOB, decontaminate our tools, reload the trailers (each Region has a tool/equipment trailer), and break down the FOB. What seemed like a massive undertaking was completed with an overwhelming efficiency, thanks in large part to V, the operations director. She is a force to be reckoned with and her experience in dealing with disasters is extensive and evident.

I didn't really want to leave just yet so I stuck around for dinner and I'm glad I did. One of the safety leads is also an ordained chaplain and he got up to speak at dinner. He put words to the thoughts in my heart about the unparalleled willingness to serve displayed by the veterans in Team Rubicon. He quoted Isaiah in doing so and about brought me to my knees.

Several other people spoke and one of the things they touched on was 'post-deployment blues' - that let-down after it's all over. I could already feel it creeping up on me as I sat there. It was stressed that, should anyone feel like the blues were too much to handle alone, people should reach out to their fellow TR team members. Suicide rates among veterans is so very high - the reported average is 22 veteran suicides per day. TR is, sadly, well-versed in it all and Clay Hunt's legacy is palpable. Many of the TR leadership have received training on how to help others in that situation and the phrase, "Leave no man behind" is so much more than talk to them; it's ingrained in all they do.

Finally, after stalling as long as I could, I had to head home. The back roads of Nebraska and Kansas at night, alone, are a little unnerving, as is the deer I almost hit but I made it home in one piece, dirty, tired, and thoroughly hooked (I managed to use SIX commas in that one sentence. My AP English teacher would be *so proud*...). I don't know that I've ever believed in an organization as much as I believe in Team Rubicon. I have from the moment Jake and Will hit the ground in Haiti and started posting about what they were doing. To see it in action and to actually be a part of it - to be welcomed to be a part of it - means more than I can put into words.

I'm sure I have more to add and I'm sure I've left people out or forgotten stuff that happened over the weekend. I blame lack of sleep. And this computer. But mostly the lack of sleep. 

My official hard hat. Saved my noggin on a number of occasions.
Not sure if I was supposed to give it back...


(L to R) D, R, and me going through some of the former owner's belongings. Things considered to be of value are given to Habitat to sell at the ReStore. Proceeds from ReStore go to fund salaries from HFH staff. (Photo: K. Starling)

Dismantling the front porch. After bracing it, because that was all that was holding the upper floor up. (Photo: K. Starling)

I didn't get to participate *this* time but chainsaw training was also offered. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

Best strike team(s) on the planet. (Photo: K. Starling)

Morning brief. The smart people are standing in the sun. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

M, our HFH site director, was amazing. And fun. And even more amazing.
I want to *be* her when I grow up. (Photo: K. Starling)

Salvation Army fed us. Sadly, they did not have any mayo. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

My son tells me I look like I walked off the set of 'Breaking Bad'.

Home sweet home. 

1905 Dutch colonial house. Should be done in about 6 weeks. That's M and the Fox team lead, K. I adore them. (Photo: K. Starling)

What I saw when I first pulled up. So. Freaking. Cool. (Team Rubicon, Region VII)

Omaha Habitat's CEO, Amanda Brewer, giving us all warm fuzzies on our morning brief. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

We filled FOUR of these bad boys. Metal on the right, trash on the left.
Don't screw it up or M will get after you. (Photo: K. Starling)

Some of us got to swing the sledge. Some of us didn't. Not only is K fortunate to
live in Colorado, he got to swing the sledge. (Photo: K. Starling)

My team lead was cool enough in his yoga poses to make TR's Twitter feed. He also
sang to us because he left his speaker back in Detroit and we had no music. (Photo: Team Rubicon, Region VII)

Monday required some help. 

I cannot wait to go do it all again. I don't want to hope or wish for a natural disaster but, when one does happen, I look forward to being able to help and work alongside these amazing people with this incredible mission. 

- hfs
(see...I told you it would be long. And disjointed.)

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