Disaster relief group Team Rubicon giving veterans a new purpose
(CBS 58) -- A group of volunteers called Team Rubicon are already on the round in North Carolina.
They follow disasters and do the heavy lifting it takes to help people get back on their feet. The group was started by a former Wisconsin Badgers football player and Marine veteran.
CBS 58's Mark McPherson got a firsthand look at Team Rubicon in Wisconsin.
One shovel at a time Pete Peterson's home is being cleaned out.
"We ended up with 15 inches of water on the first floor. The basement was completely submerged.
Slogging through a muddy mess is an army of gray shirts helping Peterson recover whatever he can.
"It's really been a godsend to have them here today. For the last couple of days, it's just been my wife and me, so these guys show up and it's just tremendous."
They are Team Rubicon and during our meeting with them, they were helping flood victims in Cross Plains.
"We stay until the work is completely cleaned out, we don't leave a homeowner with a mess."
The group is made up of mostly military veterans. They come into communities after a disaster and do the manual labor that needs to be done, like cleaning out flooded homes or clearing downed trees.
"We will bring our own logistics and our own command structure and our own funding so that the local community does not have to put in anything to get our work out of it," said Michael Brady, Team Rubicon Deputy Incident Commander.
After a disaster, they find a headquarters on their own and call in the volunteers.
"We don't want to draw resources from the response onto us, we want to be self-contained and operate on our own," Brady says.
The gray shirts number 80,000 nationwide but they started with just eight. It was the idea of former Wisconsin Badger and Marine veteran Jake Wood who wanted to help after the devastating Haiti earthquake.
"Men and women who put service above self-committed to putting differences aside to help communities in their greatest time of need. We have a saying at Team Rubicon that if Americans treated each other every day like they do after disasters, we'd live in a truly special place," Wood said in an interview with ESPN.
Since that first mission, Rubicon numbers quickly swelled. It became a place for veterans to continue serving with people just like them.
"It's a place in which you are surrounded by people who are your brothers and sisters because you've been slogging it out all day, mucking like this, and a person like this can share information with you that maybe you can't share with others," said Brady.
"The service here is a connection to my military service," said Thomas Yazell, a Team Rubicon volunteer.
Veteran Thomas Yazell has been volunteering for two years.
"I wanted to find a way to reconnect with my veteran friends, that comradery that I missed."
Comradery and organization. Team Rubicon is like a well-oiled military machine.
"Our daily battle rattle is lights on at 06, at 6:30 we have a breakfast, 7 o'clock we do what's called an operational briefing, they go out at 8 o'clock."
It even sounds like the military.
"You're living with veterans 24/7. You're working with them all day. You'll pick up the language."
But it's not just veterans. Thirty percent of volunteers are non-military who just want to help.
"If you have a skill, we can apply that skill. If you don't have a skill we can train skills." Brady says.
At the Peterson home, the team is tearing out moldy walls and emptying a basement that was completely full of water.
They can't make someone like Peterson completely whole, but they can do some of the heavy lifting.
The Volunteers are soaked through with sweat and dirt but say they've never felt better.
"Satisfying, satisfying to know that you've done something, completed, made a difference in a person's life," Yazell says.
Anyone can sign up for Team Rubicon. They just have an eight hour "basic training" and then you're on the list in case of a disaster.
For more information about Team Rubicon or to find out how you can help, please click here.