Disaster responders put skills to test

Annual Patriot training exercise draws hundreds to Volk Field

When a disaster strikes, first responders have to act fast and be knowledgeable. That’s why beginning Tuesday, hundreds of members from dozens of response organizations are training in a readiness exercise called Patriot at Volk Field, complete with plenty of fake disasters.

For one veteran-led disaster relief organization called Team Rubicon, it is their first year participating. Many of its members say giving back to others is their passion.

“We get up about 5:30,” Team Rubicon volunteer Michael Martel said. “At about 7 in the morning we were mounting up and heading out to the field.”

You never know when disaster will strike, but team members say it’s best to be prepared.

“Today’s all about an exercise opportunity to work with National Guard so we can better integrate our teams when it comes to natural disasters,” Team Rubicon’s Public Information Officer Ashley Slover said.

About 100 members of the disaster relief organization are getting some-real world experience working with other response teams, preparing in case a storm rolls in.

“This helps us all to work well in the blue sky so if it happens we know how to work well and do that,” said incident commander Kyle Doyon.

Activities include demolition, cleaning debris, and some hands-on training with heavy equipment that would come in handy if a natural disaster like a tornado knocks out buildings and trees.

“We can do more work with same volunteers over larger area at same time by utilizing heavy equipment,” David Venables, the team’s heavy equipment coordinator, said. “However it’s also very dangerous, so training before we deploy them is critical.”

Team Rubicon, made up of both veterans and civilians, believes it’s also critical to help get vets back into society.

“We’re bridging the gap between the veterans and civilians by making this organization accessible to everyone,” Slover said. “The common goal is to help homeowners hit by disaster, and the companionship and camaraderie that comes from that helps veterans reintegrate into civilian life as well.”

Martel is a Marine Corps veteran, and despite the long days, he said  the work is worth it.

“We keep busy. We all get along really well so the interaction keeps us going, so really by the time we hit eight or nine hours, we rarely notice,” he said. “Most of the time we really don’t want to quit.”

The Patriot exercise goes through Thursday.

Slover said Team Rubicon was founded by vets in 2010, and has since grown nationally and is expanding worldwide. To volunteer, you can visit their website.