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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.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Deputy TL McNulty, AAR. "This is a disaster on a catastrophic scale!" , please read and pass on!

2010-01-24 13:57

Short After Action Review due to time-constraints...more to follow. I´m currently in Santo Domingo about to hop a flight back to DC.

For the last six days I was operating in refugee camps in the worst hit areas of Port au Prince. I was the Asst Team Leader for Team Rubicon, a team of former Marines, soldiers, firefighters, doctors, and nurses operating in the supposed ´denied areas´ of Port au Prince. We were - and the team continues to be - FIRST RESPONDERS to wounds now over ten days old.

First, please follow the Team Rubicon blog. There are some very candid assessments there. The situation is grim. Once again, we are witnessing the impotence of western power to deal with disasters/emergencies;for either out of lack of compassion, political correctness, or because the institutions set up to take care of emergencies are so overburdened with layers of bureaucracy that they are ineffective. When the Red Cross told our team not to deploy but to donate money to the Red Cross, we knew something was wrong. When we asked a Red Cross volunteer to start providing water/food to Hatians near our refugee camp, he said they weren´t organized to do so. But continue to give them your money anyways. Right. It appears to me that senior positions at large aid organizations are guaranteed by long drawn out solutions, incremental progress and maintaining the status quo.

Sensationalist journalism prevented aid from getting to Port au Prince. I saw one truck attacked by a hundred or so Hatians throwing rocks. It pulled off a side road and behind my taptap. I saw one food convoy mobbed outside our field hospital. However, I never saw a Haitian with a machete or a firearm that wasn´t in the military/police. There were no mobs of bandits, the media was wrong. But...if the world doesn´t get there fast, there will be. People get very desperate without food and water. I would too. But since bureaucratic institutions are reactive, not proactive (by their very nature), the irresponsible journalism and circular reporting of the traditional media made even the military scared to respond in a timely fashion. I was personally told by a friend of mine at SOUTHCOM to not deploy until the security situation improved. He´s a very good friend and good at his job, but couldn´t have been more wrong. He´s responsible for knowing the on-the-ground situation and he didn´t, because the information being sent to him was the same garbage being reported on TV. He told me I would get in the way of the military. So what should you do?

Follow Team Rubicon´s model. There are hundreds of thousands of Hatians without work but not without assets/skills to help in the rescue process. Hire them! Team Rubicon operated out of local taptaps, a jerry rigged pickup truck turned bus which you can find anywhere. Hatians that speak English and Spanish just as abundant. While other aid organizations waited for their vehicles/interpreters to arrive, we hired people off the streets and put them to work. Put one Marine/soldier in uniform with a group of doctors and nurses and send them into the refugee camps. We did it. And Team Rubicon continues to do it today. Everywhere you go people will approach you for food, water and jobs. If they get pushy, say you are ´Medi-seen´ which they will understand as doctors. In all situations, the Haitians immediately understood we were there to help and backed off. Hiring locals gets the local economy moving and reduces the chance of a security situation, as your local drivers/interpreters become dependent and loyal to the team, not to mention they are far more reliable than a GPS when it comes to lines of communication.

Self-deploy with a general plan but don´t worry about needing an OPORD. We went in with enough provisions to sustain ourselves for a week. If you fly to Santo Domingo you will find hundreds of people just like Team Rubicon trying to do the same thing. You can join a team there or put together your own. The point is, do it, because governments and international institutions are failing to do so themselves.

Immediately remove anyone in the military chain of command who becomes part of the problem, or move them off base and into town so they can learn the hard way. Readers of Team Rubicon blog are all aware of my run-in with a female major at the airport. Weight standards aside, she deserves no place in a relief effort of this size or the military. The problem is, the bureaucracy of the American military promotes those who promote the bureaucracy. If you challenge conventional wisdom, you will be considered a trouble maker. In my case, despite my exhaustive explanation, the major couldn´t understand why I would need medical supplies, and why I was wearing portions of my old Marine Corps uniform. Because first and foremost ma´am, they are NOT your supplies, they are mine, and because cammie trousers and boonie covers give me legitimacy and authority with the Haitan people, where there otherwise is none.

This is a disaster on a catastrophic scale, and it doesn´t have to be this bad. Hold your leaders responsible.

I will provide more later...have to catch a flight. Distro as you please.

Semper fidelis,

William McNulty
Co-Founder and former Asst Team Leader
Team Rubicon


  1. "There are hundreds of thousands of Hatians without work but not without assets/skills to help in the rescue process. Hire them!"

    This is exactly the type of response I have been advocating since Katrina. Rather than having people sitting around in camps doing nothing, put them to work helping with relief efforts and then recovery. There is no reason to have any able-bodied people sitting around with nothing to do. That leads to discontent, rumors, and eventually, unrest.

    There is probably something for everyone at every skill level to do. They could be kept busy and that gives them a personal investment in the success of the relief effort and eventually a personal investment in the rebuilding of their community. It is an opportunity for a community to come together. We seem to waste that opportunity every chance we get.

  2. Well put. When the people need you, you go. When there is a call, you answer. Thousands of lives will be saved because of the bravery and determination of folks like you. Your swift response was exactly what you were supposed to do and the right thing. So long as you show up prepared, God takes care of the rest. Be the change you with to see in the world!

  3. The more I think about it, the more I think the world either needs a different kind of relief organization or the existing organizations need new "branch" for first response. Team Rubicon highlights the need for self-contained "forward response teams" that can get into remote areas and begin response early. This prevents relatively minor injuries from turning into life or limb threatening injuries though neglect.

    Rather than operating in the mode where a response starts at some point source (PaP airport, in this case) and then spreads outward, there needs to be an approach where it begins at several point sources at the same time with groups who can operate independently. Then as time passes, these groups can be interconnected and the lines of communications upgraded and supplies from the central point distributed.

    People with military experience are well suited to this role as they have been trained to operate under harsh conditions in remote locations and are less likely to themselves require rescue.

  4. Great suggestions, Crossfire. Wish you could be there with Rubicon.

    Hope Jeff will put this latest from McNulty over at Facebook.

    I bet he is posting it to the Blog/Forum pages at SOUTHCOM, if appropriate for him to do so, that is.

  5. Crosspatch, what do you do for a living?

  6. I am a network engineer. I spent 7 years in the Army in the late 70's and early 80's. (INSCOM) But basically I design, deploy and maintain large global networks. But I am also a single Dad with two small kids (elementary and middle school) whose Mom passed away a few years ago.

    I tend to be more of a "big picture" logistics and infrastructure type.

  7. Another aspect of Team Rubicon's approach when looked at in a greater context is that it tends to "fix" the population where they are, rather than have them get on the road looking for help.

    In a situation where the relief effort is centralized, people will tend to migrate toward these resources. This can cause overcrowding, congestion of lines of communications, can make injuries worse, and makes people more vulnerable to being injured or possibly victims of banditry while on the move.

    Rubicon's approach of providing local emergency services means that the lines of communication are potentially less congested and can be utilized for transport of the more serious cases to better equipped facilities.

    What bothers me (but doesn't surprise me) is the lack of established organizations leveraging the capabilities of Rubicon in order to help more people in more areas.

    There are just so many things about the Rubicon approach that validates a lot of my own thinking over the years. You guys are definitely on the right track.

  8. Just my lame two cents.:) The sleeping giants have awoke,but seem to have no game plan as of yet.they don't want your help,( they have people)but send money, lot's of money. Money is a good thing. but action speaks louder than begging from the giants.Team Rubicon approach works. well done guy's. I could go on, but won't.

  9. It's all about initiative.

    Organizations that push the ideal of personal initiative have flexibility and adaptability built into their system.

    Bureaucracy is anti-initiative by its very nature. This builds in lack of flexibility and generates stasis.

    NGOs and disaster relief organizations would benefit greatly from mimicking the efforts the USMC has done on Distributed Operations.

  10. Great post and some great comments here as well. Crosspatch, I think you are on to something.

    There is no reason why larger, established charities couldn't have rapid response units that are specially trained to get in, assess the situation and start providing emergency medical care immediately.

    When I read posts on this blog about why Team Rubicon is doing a better job compared to established charities, I can't help but see parallels with startups and entrepreneurship. Big companies (and charities) have cash, employees and entrenched protocols that can make them inefficient. They try to do too many things at once and lose focus. Team Rubicon took entrepreneurial strategies to the relief effort and is producing amazing results.

    The reason startups drive innovation in the US is that they are lean, focused and driven to innovate. They don't have a history that tells them that their goal is impossible or too dangerous. By empowering small teams, startup teams can produce amazing results while other larger competitors aren't even finished planning.

    Team Rubicon followed this model perfectly, especially by dividing into small, agile teams. Team Rubicon's work brought innovation to charities and disaster relief, two "industries" that, from my understanding, seem to have few new ideas.

    Now that the team has shown that this method can work, other, larger charities should try to replicate its success. After this is over, I'd be very interested to hear more thoughts from Team Rubicon members who are closer to the situation.

  11. Wait!! Why does this mode of doing thing,sound like whats needed in Afghanistan.? oops sorry.

  12. I really do hope you all write a book about your experiences down in Haiti. It could become a valuable resource to others with a similar bent, and potentially some of the very organizations you have complaints about.

  13. A few observations about the Red Cross. It is built on a different model than Team Rubicon. Most of the volunteers are retired persons or young, single folks (think Americorps). Very few have front-line military training.

    Also, the American version of the Red Cross is primarily set up in the National Response Plan to shelter and feed disaster victims. It does other things like logistics, and damage assessment, but usually with the intent of preparing for sheltering operations which is it's forte. The American Red Cross is not a first responder because in the US that function is normally provided by Fire Departments or other EMTs. In other countries that sometimes differs.

    I think the idea of rapid reaction relief forces is a good one for international responses, but isn't needed in the US because our fire and EMTs already provide that. Outside of the US, this becomes more of an issue for the UN and the International Red Cross with all the international bureaucracy that entails.

  14. One of the things I find disheartening about some of the established charities is almost a sense of competition. I can imagine that the following scenario is quite possible:

    Q: Hey, you have 5 tons of supplies sitting there, can we have some to get to the people of "Boonieville"?

    A: No, those are "our" supplies.

    Q: Do you have them currently assigned for any specific distribution?

    A: No, but we are still getting set up, once we get our center going, we will be handing the stuff out.

    Q: We are set up and can start handing this stuff out NOW. Can we have some?

    A: No, those are "our" supplies.

    And so goes the circular conversation.

    So it isn't really about seeing that the people get aid in some cases as it is that the charity involved do the aiding.

    In reality the "correct" response should have been:

    "you can distribute this stuff now? Awesome, take as much as you can use, we can get more."

  15. I couldn't agree more, Mr. McNulty. I have seen the dumb stuff when a team I was on after the Tsunami in Thailand had to deal with the UN and others. It can be very frustrating.

    What do you think of the Italian, Guido Bertolaso's words about how pathetic the US efforts have been? Is it accurate?

  16. Crosspatch - I could not agree more. A lot of the competition, at least in my mind, is based on who gets the credit for the help.

    The model here is for fast acting, mobile, first responders. Go in and fix the problem. Who cares who or what gets the credit the job gets done and you move on.

    I think a lot can be learned from the actions of Team Rubicon. I only hope when all is said and done that the leasons are recorded, studied, and then implemented in disaster relief organizations world wide.

    Great Job Team Rubicon