Who Are The Grayshirts? Team Rubicon Deploys Volunteers to Help With Lewis, Thurston Flood Response

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You might see them this weekend.

Team Rubicon — clad in their iconic gray shirts — will be out this weekend helping clean up after last week’s severe flooding displaced dozens of Lewis and Thurston county residents and inundated neighborhoods with flood water.

On Wednesday, Washington volunteer organizers with Team Rubicon established their forward operating base in west Centralia with plans to mobilize about 30 volunteers around the Twin Cities and Rochester area this weekend.

Volunteers were out Friday doing site assessments in anticipation for cleanup over the next two weeks.

“We focus on the uninsured, socially vulnerable population,” said Michael Chiu, a volunteer incident commander with Team Rubicon, and a retired Bellevue Police Department officer.

Team Rubicon is a Los Angeles-based non-governmental organization that focuses on disaster response and humanitarian crises assistance throughout the United States. Most of its volunteers are U.S. veterans and first responders, and Chiu estimates about three-fourths of volunteers responding to this flood will be veterans.

“We have a 450-mile radius to pull from, so we have people from all around Washington,” and Oregon, Chiu said.

According to information on the organization’s website, Team Rubicon’s roots stem from the 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti. The organization was established by two U.S. Marines who led a small group of veterans and first responders and responded to calls for supplies and aid.

“The small group focused on populations often overlooked or underserved by traditional aid organizations. By applying medical and leadership skills honed by years of service in the military, Team Rubicon provided aid to thousands of survivors of the Haiti Earthquake. From this initial operation, a larger organization grew, one committed to helping underserved communities impacted by disasters,” read the organization’s online bio.

In the past decade, approximately 785 field operations have been set up with more than 1.2 million hours tallied by volunteers in response to disasters. Team Rubicon focuses on responding to disasters caused by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires.

The organization in recent years has been involved in assisting with COVID-19 response on the Navajo Indian Nation, Hurricane Harvey and the 2020 fire that flattened the town of Malden, Whitman County.

“This is a great outlet for us emotionally, and it’s part of our identity,” Chiu said.

This month, dozens of Team Rubicon volunteers will focus on muckraking, cleaning and helping Lewis and South Thurston county residents affected by Chehalis Basin flooding.

Chiu said work on Saturday will first start at the Chehalis Avenue Apartments, where at least four families have been displaced.

“This is a highly vulnerable population that might not have the resilience necessary” to recover, Chiu said.

They also plan on assisting the Lewis County Gospel Mission where assistance is needed. Work to clean their Chehalis Avenue headquarters began earlier this week. The scope of their work has not yet been determined, though assistance may pivot toward south Thurston County communities which saw historically detrimental flooding.

Local residents so far have been very kind and warm-hearted, Chiu said, which has made their work so far easier.

“You guys are very welcoming, very warm. The red carpet’s been rolled out and it’s been quite touching,” he said.