Veterans utilize military skills for disaster relief

Jennifer Berke

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans applying their military strategies to disaster relief efforts around the world are challenging World War II veterans for the title of the greatest generation.

Time magazine columnist Joe Klein’s 2011 article “The New Greatest Generation” told the story of American soldiers using their leadership skills in remarkable ways to help others.

Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization and support squad operated by veterans, was formed to help relief efforts in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, said Matt Pelak, Army veteran and current East Coast Regional Coordinator for Team Rubicon.

“We noticed how unorganized the relief efforts were, so we organized a group via Facebook, believe it or not,” Pelak said.

Pelak said the group asked for donations and received enough money to fly veterans and medical professionals to the Dominican Republic in order to transport them to Haiti.

Pelak and two other war veterans spoke at the LBJ library Wednesday night with Klein, describing how overseas experiences have enabled them to help others at home in the U.S.

“War veterans have a great deal of experience in dealing with disaster in times of crisis,” Pelak said. “We do a lot of joint operations so we’re good at bringing our skills together to solve problems. Lots of what we know how to do is applicable in these situations.”

Team Rubicon has helped disaster efforts in Chile, Burma, Pakistan, Alabama and Missouri following natural disasters.

The organization also allows veterans to find a sense of community again when coming back from a tour, according to the organization’s website.

“You get the validation of being with other veterans in Team Rubicon,” Pelak said.

Christopher Araujo, a member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said a sense of community he feels in his organization is important for those just returning to the U.S.

“The best thing for veterans coming back is to spend time with other veterans,” Araujo said. “There are message boards where you can contact other veterans, and there is always someone to talk to.”

Pelak also said communication is essential for growing re-accustomed to civilian life.

“What’s important is figuring out how to bridge the gap between Washington and the military,” Pelak said. “I believe people have the desire to serve, to help, to give back, but they don’t know how.”

Both Team Rubicon and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are advocating a focused and simple approach to solving major problems, which emulates military strategy.

Seth Moulton, one of the veterans who spoke at the event, said a background in the military isn’t necessary to contribute to volunteer efforts.

“National service programs are giving civilians the opportunity to give back,” Moulton said. “There are a lot of ways to help.”