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Oct. 26, 2021

Built to Serve: How Team Rubicon Accomplishes the Mission

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On this episode of VANC’s SoCal Military News and Views podcast, Team Rubicon Southern California State Administrator, Kevin Kothlow, and Lt. Colonel James Coler talk about Team Rubicon’s mission, how they got involved in the organization, and the incredible emergency response deployments they have been a part of.

By providing disaster relief and emergency services, Team Rubicon mobilizes veterans and civilians to continue their service to this nation. The organization is a conduit to get people off the couch and into action by deploying them to a disaster site, so they can help those in need. From disaster relief to fire mitigation to hurricane response and more, Team Rubicon is truly built to serve all over the globe.

Destined to Serve: The Origin of Team Rubicon

In January of 2010, a 7.0 earthquake rocked the nation of Haiti. Two Marines saw what happened and could not stand by. Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty organized a small group of 8 people—including veterans, first responders, and medical professionals—to travel to Haiti and help provide relief. When Jake Wood and William McNulty came back, they established Team Rubicon in order to bridge the gap that is often left in emergency responses and disaster relief. Inspired by Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon and marching on Rome, they took the name Team Rubicon to declare that they—and all who serve with them—are answering the call to serve and there was no going back.

There are many values and service principles that guide Team Rubicon. One of the first cultural values that was established on their first mission in Haiti was “the campfire culture.” Whenever and wherever they serve, everyone experiences difficult emotions as they witness the tragedies others are going through. In Haiti, at the end of each day, they would sit around the campfire with a few beers, talk about what happened that day, and decompress, knowing they would face the same things or worse the next day. This practice continues on every emergency deployment. Not only does this practice strengthen the bonds among those on the deployments, it also encourages people who are on the mission as they hear the impact that they are making.

Part of what makes Team Rubicon such an incredible organization is that, regardless of whether it’s someone’s first day as a Grey Shirt (a Team Rubicon volunteer) or they’ve been a part of it for years, they are part of the team. No matter their background—Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, or civilian—everyone is a Grey Shirt at Team Rubicon and together they serve across the world where few would dare to go.

Actively Deployed: Recent Team Rubicon Operations

Team Rubicon Southern California State Administrator, Kevin Kothlow, was born and raised in Riverside, CA. He went to college, but after two years, he felt something was missing. When he saw an armored personnel carrier drive through one of the local parks, he decided that was what he needed to do. He joined the National Guard for two years as he attended college, and went active duty in the U.S. Army for the next two decades.

Lt. Colonel James Coler’s story is similar to Kevin’s. Hailing from North Dakota, James attended college but soon recognized, “I didn’t really want to be an English teacher, and I just happened to be by the officer selection office for the United States Marine Corps.” He went to Quantico and served for four years in the Marines before leaving to accept a job in civil service.

Both men joined Team Rubicon and first deployed when Hurricane Harvey hit. “Embarrassingly, it was probably the best run military operation I had ever been a part of. I was amazed at the organization. There were multiple other NGOs there… and everybody had a piece of the pie. It looked like it had been rehearsed for decades,” Kevin remembers. “We went to work the next day and stayed there for a week and met some great people, and basically was exposed to a lot of the culture of our organization, very military based, but also community-based. And, at that point, as they say, I drank the Kool-Aid and I was like, ‘Wow, this is a great organization.’”

Kevin and James have been a part of it ever since.

They have helped with fire mitigation, particularly since the Santa Rosa wildfires in 2018. Initially, it was difficult, as California does not readily embrace volunteers like other states do. In response, those on the Santa Rosa Wildfire deployment took classes from the Fire Protection Association, which provided them with the knowledge necessary to help mitigate wildfires and aid those on the state level and in the community. They employ this knowledge to mitigate fires across California.

For example, Team Rubicon was one of the first organizations onsite when a fire in Niland County and Imperial County destroyed 41 homes in 2020. Due to COVID, the state was unable to handle cleanup, so they contacted Team Rubicon for help. The state projected they would not be able to help for three to four months, whereas Team Rubicon was on the ground three and half weeks after they were contacted. Not only was Team Rubicon able to serve Niland County and Imperial County quickly, they also saved them $700,000-800,000.

In fact, one of the homeowners whose home was destroyed was a Vietnam Veteran. When he saw Team Rubicon helping to clean his destroyed home, he told Kevin, “You have renewed my sense of faith in humanity, because I never thought people would come out here and help me.” Throughout all their missions, Team Rubicon continues to restore people’s faith in humanity, their love for their community, and their hope for their country.

One such organization that does exactly the same thing is VANC. They are vital to fulfilling their shared vision, as they serve veterans and the community as a whole. Team Rubicon utilizes VANC’s classrooms to train Grey Shirts before they are deployed and VANC partners with Team Rubicon to accomplish incredible feats, such as distributing food and diapers during the COVID shutdown to approximately 2,000 people, 80-90% of whom were active-duty servicemembers or active-duty families. Certainly, Team Rubicon’s partnership with VANC creates a powerful force that serves those in North County and across the world.

If you’re interested in serving with Team Rubicon, they welcome everyone. However, joining the team means crossing the Rubicon: you have to leave it all behind in the name of service. As Lt. Colonel James Coler says, “We have a role for everyone, but it’s not for everybody.”

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Did you like what you heard? This show is produced by Imagine Podcasting dba Heard Not Seen Media, Inc. For more, visit Imagine Podcasting