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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clarification of Criticisms

I would like to take a moment and clarify our position on criticizing three entities operating in Haiti.

1. Media
Team Rubicon feels that national media played a role in delaying aid organizations from conducting their mission due to a flurry of sensationalist journalism. Many major networks overplayed the security situation on the ground without any true knowledge, this led to risk-averse NGOs ceasing or delaying the deployment of doctors and the delivery of food and water. Many media personalities witnessed mobs of people only because they were a white face surrounded by camera crews sucking down bottles of water, essentially creating slightly unstable situation on a small scale. The media needs to understand the dynamic on the ground and have their crews operate in a more incognito manner. David Ono, from ABC 7, did this perfectly, travelling in a simple vehicle with only one cameraman, never announcing his presence. Conversely, Jesse Jackson had a large entourage of well dressed individuals and multiple cameramen. This caused a scene and could have led to unrest.

While we feel, as stated above, that the media did contribute to the problem, they also were an invaluable tool in bringing aid to the disaster. The 24 hour news coverage facilitated donations from around the world, providing a much needed influx of capital to major relief organizations. Additionally, they served as a platform for teams, such as Team Rubicon, to bring to light situations that needed immediate attention. For example, while Team Rubicon was running (yes, running) the Emergency Room of General Hospital in PaP, it took a combination of Dr. Griswell's interview with Anderson Cooper and my interruption of Jesse Jackson's interview with CNN to facilitate the UN's release of doctors being held at the US Embassy and the delivery of desperately needed food and water. Numerous newspapers around the country caught wind of our story and helped fuel the increase in "self deployers" who chose to come to Haiti against the wishes of the Red Cross and other NGOs. Finally, David Ono and ABC 7's three part series on our efforts flooded our budget with donations, making Team Rubicon a viable disaster response team for future catastrophes.

2. Large Aid Organizations/NGOs
Team Rubicon has been very critical of large aid groups such as the Red Cross, and for good reason. We feel that these organizations evaluated the situation on the ground and opted to accept a "zero risk" policy. Meaning that since the security situation, while stable, was potentially hazardous, they opted not to put the full force of their ability into play from the moment they arrived. We came across numerous doctors who complained of being "imprisoned" at the airport and embassies, unable to leave unless they had an armed NGO detail pick them up. Team Rubicon believes that, first, a thorough risk assessment must be done, then risks must be mitigated when possible, and finally, disaster teams must be willing to assume a certain remaining level of inherent risk. If this is not done, time is lost. And when time is lost, people die.

However, Team Rubicon understands fully the powerful ability of large NGOs such as the Red Cross. These organizations have significant funding, logistical capabilities, and experience in disaster relief. That being said, they also have a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, and it takes time for them to get up and running. Team Rubicon believes that it has the ability to "bridge the gap" between when disasters happen and when large NGOs can mobilize, organize and act. Once these large entities have their inertia moving, it is time for Team Rubicon to step aside and let the big boys play. Once this transition takes place, there is no one better to conduct disaster relief.

3. Military
Team Rubicon includes many former military personnel on its teams. Because of this, we are very aware of the awesome capabilities, as well as the debilitating limitations of the military model. First, the negative. The US military responded quickly and was on the ground shortly after Rubicon arrived. However, from our perspective they did a poor job of coordinating with the logistical parties of large NGOs. What resulted was a company of 82nd Airborne soldiers protecting the General Hospital. This company was making logistics runs multiple times a day to supply its soldiers, but at no point did they think to utilize their armed convoys to help the Red Cross bring in food, water, medicine and doctors to the patients dying there. It took our own former SF medic Mark Heyward grabbing a Colonel and saying, "Listen, sir, I have a few things I need to tell you about the situation here." Within, two hours, convoys of troops were arriving, guiding in busloads of doctors and truckloads of supplies. Another problem, which has been discussed at length on this blog, was the military's closed-minded thinking with regard to our own supplies. I won't discuss the actions of a particular Army Major further, but her actions display the "power trip/ my war or the highway attitude" common in the military. Additionally, it took the Army too long to push out squad sized patrols, bolstered with doctors, into the local neighborhoods to conduct field triages. This was essentially what Team Rubicon was doing, but without the full might of the US military behind us.

Now for the positive. As I stated, the military arrived fast, that's a plus. We also had many positive interactions with lower lever leadership. I spent a lot of time at General Hospital liaising with a company commander and his first sergeant, developing plans to provide shelter, as well as enlisting the help of his men to move patients. Second, the Army patrols we did encounter later in the weeks were willing to conduct side-by-side operations with us to facilitate better evacuations for wounded (we took the lead on that). I also ran into an Army captain willing to "secure" us a tent that a British SAR team was leaving behind. Perhaps the best thing I saw can be relayed in the following story. When the General Hospital building was finally cleared to be re-entered following the 6.1 aftershock, we had hundreds of critical patients who had been roasting in the sun all day and needed to be moved inside FAST. At that same moment, a convoy of Army trucks was entering the gated compound (facilitated by Mark's 'discussion' with the Colonel). I walked up to a captain and said, "Sir, I need your men to help us move these patients inside. I suggest you have your men drop their gear and find me, I will be determining the order of importance for patients." He immediately turned to a truck and shouted for the men inside to begin stripping gear. Those men hopped out and walked towards me, ready to take my orders. A quick glance at their uniforms and I realized I was looking at one Lt. Colonel, two majors, a captain, one sergeant major and two first sergeants. Basically a "who's who" in the 82nd Airborne Brigade. I pointed to the four highest ranking and said, "you, you, you and you, grab that patient over there and take her inside." I expected some incredulous looks because of my appearance and apparent age, but, to the man, the nodded their head and said, "you got it." It was that willingness to do what it takes that reinforced my respect for my military brothers.

Jake Wood, Team Rubicon Co-Founder

17 comments:

  1. "Team Rubicon believes that it has the ability to 'bridge the gap' between when disasters happen and when large NGOs can mobilize, organize and act."

    I agree with this assessment. In fact, the larger NGOs could use teams such as Rubicon as a conduit for relief supplies in remote areas until they get their own infrastructure in place. These organizations should have been "feeding" supplies to Rubicon until they got up and going and more conventional relief spread out into the more remote locations.

    They should, in my opinion, see efforts like Rubicon as an extension of their capability, not a competitor with it.

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  2. Very well put. AAR's are meant to be seen as constructive criticism. It is necessary to identify the strengths and weaknesses of any operation and hopefully the military and NGO's will heed your words. They need to reexamine their own structure so that when disaster strikes again, their response will be more rapid with greater initial effectiveness.

    I have been so impressed with all of the members of TR. From the members on the ground working with the people of Haiti to the coordinators back in the states and all who have contributed to the cause. The selflessness shown by so many truly exemplifies the American and (more importantly) human spirit.

    Thank you for sharing this story. Thank you to everyone who left their homes, jobs, families to assist the anonymous faces on your TV's. Thank you for your bravery and your refusal to sit by and allow the media to deter you from using your amazing talents to save others.

    Thank you for letting us all be a part of this. I'm sure I, like many others, wish I had the skills required to provide hands-on assistance. But for these past few weeks I have felt as though I was part of this team and part something greater than myself. Not part of a movement for political or financial gain, rather a movement to show humanity, humility and compassion to those who need it now more than ever. TR may be one scale operation, but the effects it has had on so many are as great as the members of the team itself.

    To Jake and all other service members, active or former, thank you for representing your country once again. Contrary to what any Army major may say, you have upheld the Army core values to the highest standard. You have shown Loyalty, a sense of Duty to help others, Respect of the military's presence on the ground, NGO's and the people of Haiti, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. Of course, I guess it can't be that hard if you're a Marine:).

    HOOAH!

    God bless, stay safe, and keep up the amazing work!

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  3. Excellent report, Sir.
    Your original request for donations immediately appealed to me for many of the very reasons you mention here.
    And your comment about incredible media reports of violence and instablility hampering immediate relief efforts was unfortunately all to familiar.
    The response to Katrina was very badly hampered by media reports of "sniper fire at helicopters" and "rape and murder at the Superdome". Both reports basically stopped all aid in New Orleans for two vital days.
    Both reports were later found to be made out of whole cloth, never happened.

    Thanks for all you are doing.

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  4. I too must agree with what you have stated here.as for me,the media "MBC" did show the UN teams firing rubber bullets and striking some folks.but later "nada".NGO"s the "zero risk policy" yeah i half expected to see body armor,and helmets. but when there ready to roll there awesome, but they need to reformat I think."Military" I have a grandson in Iraq right now.(sorry not a Marine):). and support them.but there is some flaws. thanks for all you have done,and for your past service.

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  5. Well put, all are excellent points and hopefully much is learned from the experiences of Team Rubicon. The things you all have done in Haiti continue to amaze me!

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  7. I could not agree more with the analysis. Sometimes I question the motives behind why people show up with the media. Are they there to help or just to get their picture in the news as responding to an emergency?

    As to the men in the truck. I think that speaks not only to the men, but also the unit. Those units that have been involved on the ground during times of crises always seem to have the get the job done no matter what it takes attitude and rank and position are put aside to accomplish the mission. This permeates from the top down in those units.

    I think any organization that responds to any crises can learn from what has happened with Team Rubicon. They should be able to adapt to the strategy of having a rapid deployment, quick response team(s) that hit the ground running and that are not bogged down in the red tape of the normal bureaucracy. Not only can they use these teams to funnel the initial supplies to where they are needed, they can also use them as their eyes and ears to funnel the correct info back so proper assessments of needs and allocation of resources can be done. Once the initial turmoil is over, and the bigger parts are set up to handle the aftermath, then these teams can either be folded back into the larger groups or they can be released to recoup and reload to get ready for the next crises.

    God Bless you all for the work you have done.

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  8. I am really awed by all you at Team Rubicon have accomplished, much respect to you!!!
    Thank You , for your continued service.

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  9. It seems to me that what you have most lacked is properly catagorized as "on the ground intel" -- and military units have the collection and analysis of "battlefield intel" in real time as a core mission. Why wasn't the military using the same intel procedures and infrastructures that they would use to track good guys and bad guys in Iraqi neighborhoods to track down injured people and local resources in Haitian neighborhoods?

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  10. Jake -

    I have been in and around the military for almost 30 years now. This report of yours is one of the best I have ever read. It is straight forward and to the point. It is truly a loss to the the Marines for not convincing you to go for a commission.

    But, judging from what you have just done, I think you have found your calling and the world will be a little bit better from you and your team's actions.

    Here is one thing to consider if things don't work out or you need something a bit more permanent - the Fairfax County International Urban Search & Rescue http://www.vatf1.org/ Just a thought ;^)

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  11. Hi,
    This is traumabob. I deployed with team Rubicon for 6 days. I was extremely dissapointed with the state departments treatment of volunteers leaving Haiti. They made us sign a promissary note promising to pay 300-400 dollars to leave Haiti on a military cargo plane to Florida. These planes came in with food/cargo and were leaving empty anyway to restock in Florida. When we found this out, we were going to leave and travel to DR for a plane out. We were then misinformed that the form was only for loans for people once the arrived in Florida and needed money to go further on their trip. After our bags were loaded, another state department employee demanded the promissary note stating we were going to be charged for the flight. At that point we had no choice because our bags were already stowed so we took the flight. I am extremely dissapointed in our State department

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  12. It´s the gospel truth!
    I was there…
    Thank you Team Rubicon, to really help. I love your philosophy . You already have followers in Spain.
    That the strength and the courage never leave to you!

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  13. What a fantastic assessment by Jake!

    Rubicon's work has had many fruits: the suffering directly alleviated, the bonds and friendships formed, and the opportunity for so many of us to show empathy & charity to our fellow man.

    However, we shouldn't overlook the "follow-up" work. Crosspatch is right (above)-- the large NGOs (Military? FEMA?) could use Rubicon-style teams as fast-response advance guard in future disaster relief efforts. Sounds like a successful model, not to mention a future career path for the Rubicon founders/members!

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  14. I'm not on the ground, so I'll defer to your analysis. And you should seriously consider writting a book/manual about what occured.

    I forwarded this post to Thomas Barnett, as it's something he has interest in.

    You guys are realy doing a remarkable job, and should be proud of yourselves.

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  15. Way to go Jake. A former University of Wisconsin football player, Marine and life saver for the needy. You've got more hootspa than that female Army Major will ever have.

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  16. Oh God, PLEASE discuss the actions of a particular Army Major further.

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