Whether it’s a pair of well-worn jeans or an oh-so-soft cashmere sweater, you probably have a favorite article of clothing. For Terry Alling, it’s a grey cotton t-shirt emblazoned with red and white lettering. And this is no ordinary t-shirt; in fact, whenever he wears it, the Coldwell Banker Island Properties Realtor feels a deep sense of pride. “I earned that grey shirt,” he said. “It was hard work, but I’d go back and do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

In late November, Alling flew to Texas to take part in “Operation Hard Hustle,” a Hurricane Harvey relief effort spearheaded by Team Rubicon, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that deploys trained disaster response teams—primarily made up of military veterans—to provide immediate relief to those impacted by disasters and humanitarian crises throughout the U.S. and abroad.

In 2010, two U.S. Marines, William McNulty and Jake Wood, led a medical team into Port-au-Prince three days after a catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged the Haitian capital. Not long after, McNulty and Wood launched Team Rubicon (inspired by the expression “crossing the Rubicon,” which means irrevocably committing to a course of action), and today, the Los Angeles-based organization’s mission is twofold: to respond to large-scale disasters quickly and efficiently and to bridge the gap between military and civilian life. Veterans—who bring invaluable skills honed by years of service in the military—are paired with first responders, medical professionals and other trained volunteers to assist communities in need, particularly those that tend to be overlooked or underserved by traditional aid organizations.

As of December, Team Rubicon had a roster of nearly 70,000 volunteers—both veterans and civilians—located throughout the U.S. And if that weren’t impressive enough, all of the organization’s services are provided free of charge.

Three years ago, Alling read a magazine article detailing the efforts of Team Rubicon and was instantly intrigued. “I really liked what I saw,” he recalled. Alling is a Desert Storm veteran who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Saratoga in an F/A-18 fighter squadron before joining the U.S. Army, where he was selected for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. After leaving the military, Alling worked as a police officer for two decades. In August of 2005, while vacationing with his family on the Oregon coast, Alling, then a resident of Washington State, learned of the disaster unfolding in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “I said, ‘I’ve got to go. I can’t just sit here,’” he said.

He returned home to Washington, where he loaded a trailer full of supplies, recruited two fellow police officers to join him, and hit the road. Twenty-six hundred miles later (and after picking up another police officer along the way), the group rolled up their sleeves and spent a week clearing roadways, cutting up fallen trees, repairing roofs and de-mucking homes. So, it came as no surprise that Team Rubicon’s mission resonated deeply with Alling. Not long after reading the magazine article, he filled out an application and completed an online training course and background check so he would be on the organization’s “ready to deploy” list.

He got the call in mid-November: Volunteers were needed for the final phases of “Operation Hard Hustle.” Team Rubicon had mobilized shortly after Hurricane Harvey made landfall; the response began with search and rescue operations and eventually transitioned into damage assessments, debris removal and cleanup. Alling received an alert on his cell phone, confirmed he was available, and a few days later, boarded a flight (all of his travel expenses were covered by Team Rubicon) to Texas. He arrived at Team Rubicon’s National Operations Center (NOC) in Dallas on Nov. 26, and over the course of a week, he and his fellow “Greyshirts” sorted, cleaned and repaired an assortment of tools and equipment (ranging from boats to generators to chainsaws to wheelbarrows—and everything in between). All of the salvageable items were loaded into strike kits to be used in the next disaster deployment, which, of course, could happen anywhere and at any time.

It’s clear that Alling’s first deployment left a lasting impression. In fact, he says he plans to do it again when the time comes. “I’m a hard guy to impress,” he said. “But I am extremely impressed by Team Rubicon.”

To learn more about Team Rubicon or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit www.teamrubiconusa.org.

Written by Sarah Ruppenthal
Published in The Maui News – January 20, 2018

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