'Operation Deishu Dawn' deploys veterans to assist in December disaster response
September 9, 2021
While many celebrated Labor Day relaxing, a group of U.S. military veterans cleared brush and rotten and moldy flood-damaged debris from Lemmie Spradlin's Mathias Avenue house.
The vets are members of Team Rubicon (TR), a volunteer-led nonprofit made up primarily of military veterans and first responders who rapidly deploy to areas around the U.S. and the world impacted by disasters and humanitarian crises. A group of 11 arrived in Haines last week at the request of the Haines Long Term Recovery Group in an effort to "muck out" houses and structures that suffered flood and landslide damage in the Dec. 2 storms. They expect to work on seven to 11 properties before they leave.
On Monday, TR operations support leader Jamie Robertson said their job was to prepare Spradlin's house for contractors to start hanging drywall.
"Pretty much everything in here was wet and damaged, including the insulation," Robertson said of the ground floor of Spradlin's house. "We just took out the ceilings. We stripped off all the drywall, took all the insulation out, took all the belongings out, tried to salvage what we can and get the rest hauled away in dumpsters. We pull every nail, sweep it up and get the place as clean as we can."
Spradlin, 83, has been living in a converted garage since February. Before that she spent two months at the Captain's Choice after she was displaced from her house on Dec. 2. The first floor still had standing water a week and a half before the TR volunteers arrived on Friday. They hung a tarp in the driveway to cover Spradlin's possessions. She's been sorting through items she wants to keep including paperwork, a cedar chest and a 1999 pool tournament trophy awarded to her late husband.
"What I've gone through since December 2, I just felt devastated," Spradlin said. "I wanted someone to come help so bad. They've helped me a lot to get past losing so much. So much of my life was represented here, but I'm getting through it, thanks to them. I've appreciated them very much."
Air Force veteran and San Diego resident Joshua Strange, 32, joined Team Rubicon in the spring after graduating from the University of San Diego. This is his first "deployment" with the group. He said seeing fellow vets work together to accomplish a goal reminds him of what he misses about military life.
"I feel like we're on a mission. Everyone is trying to work together to get it done," Strange said. "We're all from a bunch of diverse backgrounds but we can come together with grit and purpose and really accomplish something in a short amount of time and get a lot of work done. I kind of miss that in a way. It feels so much different than school. It feels a lot nicer."
TR uses language that veterans are familiar with. Their "mission" to Haines is called "Operation Deishu Dawn."
TR spokesperson Mike Rowe said the organization was founded after two Marine vets felt disaster response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was moving too slow. They put together a team of eight responders and traveled to Haiti just days after the earthquake.
"Team Rubicon was started by vets that came back from the military who were looking for a mission, something to do of value, something to give back," Rowe said. "Our motto is that we're going to get there and we're going to kick ass."
Haines Long Term Recovery Group coordinator Sylvia Heinz said once she contacted the organization about helping in Haines, they responded within the month. She said witnessing the speed and zeal of the all-volunteer group has been a much-needed inspiration.
"We've been working so hard for so long," Heinz said of the local volunteer effort that has been ongoing since December. "Having fresh energy and that camaraderie and that willingness to work hard and get it done has given us that extra boost to get to the finish line. We've been working on disaster-related debris since April. To see it happen, to be able to clean up nine months after the fact feels like a really big step for disaster recovery."
As of August, the Long Term Recovery Group continues to manage 75 cases of residents impacted by the December storms including people who are eligible to dispose of construction debris. Eligible residents have until Sept. 18 to dispose of storm-damaged debris. The group has facilitated the expenditure of more than $457,000 in donated funds since the disaster.
"There's still a lot that's left to be done and money to be raised but this is a big step forward," Heinz said of TR's assistance mucking out and disposing of construction debris. "It's just inspiring to get this far to show that we can keep moving forward."
Since TR volunteers' arrival, the Chilkoot Indian Association provided tools, office space, vehicles and heavy equipment. The American Legion Post 12, Southeast Alaska Independent Living, and Port Chilkoot Bible Church also provided support. Alaska Airlines and Alaska Fjordlines donated transportation. Locals Stuart Dewitt and Don Turner III provided a salmon and moose dinner, local food establishment Camino fed the group halibut, and The Salvation Army supplemented grocery supplies at Echo Ranch Bible Camp.
TR is also responding to disasters associated with Hurricane Ida, the most recent Haitian earthquake, Afghanistan refugee resettlement, COVID-19 vaccination support and others. It now has more than 140,000 volunteers and has deployed to more than 800 operations since its inception.