MAYFIELD, Ky. — When Steve Alby traveled to Mayfield, Kentucky, a few days after the devastating Dec. 10, 2021, tornado, he was led by a desire to make a difference in the community’s recovery.
Equipped with 12 years of experience as a Marine Corps firefighter, civilian experience as a first responder, an innate need to help others and the organizational prowess of an international disaster relief organization, Alby was put to work in the tornado ravaged area within hours of his arrival. As a volunteer sawyer for Team Rubicon, he spent a week cutting up and removing fallen trees, clearing tree limbs from yards and damaged houses, and piling tree debris along the roadways for removal by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“It is important to me to help people in need, to give back to communities where disaster has struck,” Alby said. “After Hurricane Laura in 2020, I was able to help people in Lake Charles (Louisiana) and now I’ve helped in Mayfield. Team Rubicon makes these opportunities possible.”
Alby, who is completing a developmental assignment as a Special Projects Officer for Army Materiel Command’s Commanding General’s Initiatives Group, became a Team Rubicon volunteer a couple years ago. Founded in 2010 by two former Marines, Team Rubicon’s mission is to provide relief to those affected by disaster through the volunteer efforts of skilled and experienced military veterans.
During its first 12 years, Team Rubicon has grown to a network of 150,000 mostly veteran volunteers, providing U.S. and worldwide relief in the wake of nearly 1,000 disasters and humanitarian crises, including 15 earthquakes, 171 floods, 45 hurricanes, 93 severe storms, 124 tornadoes, 170 wildfires and 325 COVID-19 emergencies. Besides the Kentucky tornado, Team Rubicon volunteers were also instrumental in such major 2021 efforts as combating COVID-19, resettling Afghan refugees and supporting Colorado communities damaged by wildfires.
“In all these situations, there is always something we can do, there is always some way we can connect with victims and do something good,” Alby said. “Military veterans have leadership and organizational skills, and service capabilities, and many of us still want to serve in times of need. We combine our skills and experience with first responders to help with recovery very quickly after a disaster.”
Alby’s mission in Kentucky took him to desolate areas where destruction was as far as the eye could see.
“Some of the houses had holes in their roofs where trees had crashed through and other houses were just flat,” he said. “On one street, I met a husband and wife who lost everything. They were standing near the foundation of their double wide modular home. The frame of what was once their home was on top of a house across the street. The devastation was incredible wherever I went.”
For most of his time in Kentucky, the weather was cold and rainy. Most of the tornado’s victims were huddled up at rescue centers and working on getting their lives back together. Alby saw very few of the residents he was trying to help.
“In Lake Charles, there were still areas that were only slightly damaged so business was going on almost as usual. We would stop for lunch, and residents would come up to us, and thank us over and over again for what we were doing. But, in Kentucky, the area was so broken that most residents were in shelters,” he said.
Alby and his wife, Tori, who is an Army veteran, discovered Team Rubicon when they were looking for volunteer opportunities after settling in Reno, Nevada.
“We still felt we had something we could give,” Alby said. “We had a desire to help and serve in some capacity, and this gives you that opportunity. Team Rubicon fit with what our view of service is.”
Team Rubicon is connected with emergency management agencies across the nation, so it is among the first to be called for disaster relief. When disaster strikes, Team Rubicon reaches out to its registered volunteers – both veterans and civilians – within 450 miles of the disaster. Those who are available are dispatched to an area based on their availability and skills.
“Team Rubicon provides lodging, meals, transportation and equipment,” Alby said. “They assign volunteers to teams – the sawyer team, muck out team, roof tarping team, heavy equipment team, whatever is needed. And, then we go out and get things done.”
While in Kentucky, Alby worked with volunteers from across the U.S.
“You work and live with volunteers you’ve never met before,” he said.
“But you just click because you have a common goal. That goal really makes the team cohesive and work well together. Your team can include college-age students up to retirees. It really doesn’t matter because you are all there to help.”
Alby’s team worked side-by-side with a five-person team from Israel, funded through IsraAID. Other volunteers were from Samaritan’s Purse, American Red Cross and various church organizations.
“When I responded to the Lake Charles hurricane disaster, the devastation was widespread with pockets of destruction scattered throughout the area. There were a lot of trees down and windows out, and lots of power issues,” Alby said.
“In Mayfield, it was more complete devastation. It was unbelievable with multiple areas impacted. The news footage centered in one area, but there were many isolated areas that were devastated. It is such a huge area that Team Rubicon had to have three forward operating bases throughout the areas to provide enough response.”
Prior to serving with Team Rubicon, volunteers must complete training. Following their service in a disaster area, they are provided with services if needed to overcome “deployment blues.”
“When you are working in a disaster area, you have this tremendous feeling of satisfaction because you are doing things that make a difference,” Alby said.
“But, as veterans, we all understand that once we leave a disaster area we can get depressed from what we experienced. Team Rubicon helps us process through those feelings.”
For veterans, assisting victims of disasters can in itself be part of their own healing process in overcoming their experiences from serving in a war zone, he said.
“I served as a Marine Corps firefighter with aircraft crash and rescue. I’ve worked as a wildfire firefighter and an EMT. I’ve been through a lot of these situations and know that it’s important to process through feelings associated with disaster relief,” Alby said. “Veterans understand that and this organization does a lot toward helping veterans overcome issues associated with their service.”
Alby will soon return to his job as a Logistics Modernization Program lead at Sierra Army Depot in California. But future plans will bring him back to AMC headquarters in late February for a permanent position with AMC Operations. The move will allow him to continue his volunteer work with Team Rubicon in the southeast region. He also plans to take on another volunteer project with his wife to develop and build a veteran’s ranch in the Huntsville area for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress and other issues related to their military service.