ST. GEORGE — After fighting wars in Vietnam or the Middle East, some veterans from Southern Utah are now prepared to fight disasters like hurricanes and wildfires.
“We get to serve our county in ways that doesn’t involve killing,” said Bruce Solomon, a member of Team Rubicon in Southern Utah and a counselor for people with post-traumatic stress disorder in St. George.
Team Rubicon is a national nonprofit organization of veterans who volunteer to use their skills to serve the community or help emergency responders after disasters. Since December, a new Southern Utah chapter of Team Rubicon has started recruiting members from everywhere in Utah south of Fillmore, including Cedar City, Panguitch, Kanab, the St. George area and even Mesquite, Nevada.
Boots on the ground
Before there was an official chapter of Team Rubicon in St. George, local veterans were being deployed by the regional office in Denver for missions. Team Rubicon volunteers from Southern Utah were deployed to help out with disaster cleanup in Texas after Hurricane Harvey in September.
Shari McTiver, of Washington City, was one of the six Team Rubicon volunteers from Southern Utah deployed to Texas for two weeks after the hurricane.
“After helping out with the hurricane, I thought it was such a great organization with a super mission so I wanted to bring it to Southern Utah,” McTiver said.
McTiver and Solomon were able to gain approval for a Southern Utah chapter of Team Rubicon in December, she said. There’s already a Team Rubicon chapter in Salt Lake City, but because of the number of flash floods and wildfires that are somewhat common in Southern Utah, there was the need for a new chapter here, Solomon said. So far, there are 57 local members of Team Rubicon. McTiver is now the the city administrator of Team Rubicon in St. George.
When there is a disaster in Southern Utah like a major flood or wildfire, Solomon said Team Rubicon officials will connect with emergency responders to see if there is a need for trained military veteran volunteers to aid responders. If there is a need, Team Rubicon will quickly send out a call to have members deployed.
“We put the call out and tell them to grab their go bags,” Solomon said.
It usually takes about five days for volunteers to be deployed for a mission except for the wildfire crew, Solomon said. Trained volunteers who are part of the wildfire crew are called to help immediately by the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service. Depending on how large the disaster is, Team Rubicon volunteers can come from all over the nation to help.
“If you think about the disasters that happen in Southern Utah, most of them revolve around fires and floods,” McTiver said. “Those are the kinds of things we need to be very well-prepared for.”
While there haven’t been any missions to fight local wildfires of floods since the Southern Utah chapter of Team Rubicon has been established, volunteers have been able to serve in other ways and help out in missions elsewhere. For instance, over Mother’s Day weekend, there was a mission to help clean up debris from a structure fire in Las Vegas, Solomon said.
Team Rubicon volunteers from Southern Utah also helped out at events in St. George like the National Wreaths Across America event in December and the Ultimate Outdoor Recreation Expo, which was also in December. Team Rubicon officials are now looking for additional ways to serve the community with smaller projects in Southern Utah like helping clean up the La Verkin shooting range.
When there are service missions, businesses like Home Depot, Caterpillar and Stihl donate materials, while Team Rubicon donates the manpower, Solomon said. Additionally, he said Team Rubicon has saved $26 million of donated funds to help rebuild communities around the nation.
“We don’t get paid anything,” Solomon said. “It all goes back to the community.
Escaping the trenches
Many veterans who suffer from PTSD return home and don’t know how to deal with civilian life, so they turn to things like video games to fill their time and get them back to a similar mindset they had in the military, Solomon said. Team Rubicon has created an opportunity for veterans to work hard and have social experiences with others in similar situations, Solomon said.
As a Vietnam veteran, Solomon said he understands the PTSD many veterans feel when they come home from serving in the military. When veterans come home and don’t deal with PTSD, “marriages can break up, they forget all their spiritual leanings, they don’t go to parent-teacher nights, they don’t go to political rallies, they don’t go anywhere,” he said.
“Team Rubicon has provided (veterans) a way to go get together with other ‘sandbox veterans. You go out and work shoulder to shoulder with people who you fought with, who know what it’s like to be in combat and who know what it means to do hard work.”
Team Rubicon has a rigid militaristic structure that may seem familiar to veterans, Solomon said. Transportation, meals and strict schedules are provided by Team Rubicon to veterans who serve on missions. Usually, the maximum a veteran can deploy on a mission for Team Rubicon is eight days because they don’t want Team Rubicon to be an “escape” for veterans, Solomon said.
Those interested in joining Team Rubicon can click here to sign up. Even though the organization is geared toward veterans and is mostly comprised of veterans, civilians can also join if they are interested in serving, McTiver said.
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