By JIM KEVLIN
COOPERSTOWN – On one of his Team Rubicon “deployments,” Frank Capozza and his team were “mucking out” a house destroyed by flooding and discovered the homeowner’s military uniforms hanging neatly – but now mud-covered – in a closet.
Only three uniforms could be saved.
“We brought them out and had them dry cleaned,” said Capozza. They sought out the man, a Korean War veteran, in his temporary quarters and presented them to him.
“He cried. And we cried,” said the former Cooperstown village trustee and Bassett manager who owned Cooperstown Event Rentals before retiring.
An Army veteran, Capozza is also a veteran of more than a half-dozen Team Rubicon deployments, returning the first week of this month from Mexico Beach, still recovering from Hurricane Michael, which hit the Florida Panhandle in September. He spent a week there in early December, too.
Team Rubicon itself grew out of a conversation nine years ago between two Marine medics – Jake Owens and Will McNulty – who had recently returned to civilian life, according to DJ Sprenger, a Team spokesman. Watching a TV report on the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, one said to the other, “We’ve got all these skills, let’s go.”
Rebuffed by the Haitian government, Owens and McNulty recruited six other medics, flew to the Dominican Republic, rented a truck and drove across the Dajabón River into the stricken country.
Before the government got around to expelling them, they “helped thousands of people,” said Sprenger. “They ended up running a community response, taking over makeshift hospitals.”
The Marines had crossed the Rubicon, as Julius Caesar had in 49 B.C. in Northern Italy to take control of the Roman Empire, and never looked back.
Nine years later, Team Rubicon, based in Los Angeles, has “deployed” on 313 disaster-response operations and maintains a growing roster of veterans – from all the Armed Services – and civilian volunteers that is now nearing 100,000.
The martial ambiance works for Frank Capozza, where military service is a family tradition. His grandfather served during World War I. In World War II, his father was in the Navy and his mother was a Coast Guard WAVE. He had an uncle in Korea.
A Maine native, Capozza, a radioman at the end of the Vietnam War, was deployed to Korea a generation later.
His son Daniel, a West Point grad, is a major, now serving as an Army strategist in Stuttgart, Germany. His daughter, Allison, Ommegang’s publicity director, was in ROTC at
Siena. Both served in Iraq at the same time, arranging to spend a Christmas together in Baghdad.
Their father served in St. Louis, Mo., when it was hit by flooding last spring. He was called out to New Bern, N.C., when Hurricane Florence hit last summer. And Rockport, Texas, flooded in September. Early on, he been called to Grand Rapids, Mich., where his team tore down a whole neighborhood irreparably damaged in the 1965 riots.
Team Rubicon’s military approach is very helpful to local emergency responders. “We understand the chain of command,” said Sprenger, and can step right into an existing structure.
Military discipline marks a Team Rubicon deployment.
“Lights on” happens at 6 a.m. At 6:30, breakfast. At 7, the “strike team” of all the “command and general staff” meets and receive the day’s orders. At 7:30, the “whole team” gathers for assignments, Sprenger said.
By 8 a.m., said Sprenger, “you’re strapping your boots on. Getting into trucks. The work site is 40-45 miles away, but as the operation progresses, we start extending out further.”
After a hard day’s work, the teams are back in time to light the campfire at 5:30. The “beer flag” is hoisted at 6 p.m., and team members start swapping yarns. “It’s just like being in the unit again,” said Capozza. “People speak the same language.”
A day’s work behind them, and a day’s work ahead, team members rarely hit the sack much later than 9 p.m.
Team Rubicon follows the same “rule of ‘span of control’” as the regular Army – the idea that one individual can’t manage more than seven people, and the cadre is divided up accordingly.
Teams on any assignments used to consist of 50 people. But in big deployments – such as the Florida Panhandle – that cover large areas and can go on for months, teams have grown to 150 and 200 members.
At Mexico Beach, Capozza reports, he saw supposedly hurricane-proof houses picked off foundations and dropped down the street. Winds were supposed to have reached 150 mph, but he spoke to people whose wind gauges recorded up to 209 mph.
In floods and hurricanes, Capozza’s teams “muck out” houses, removing everything from a foot above the high-water mark, the sheetrock, the furniture and personal belongings, the floors. Frank has been trained in the use of heavy equipment, which sometimes involves clearing wreckage to the foundation, so homes can be raised anew.
According to Sprenger, Team Rubicon keeps close track of its team contributions. For instance, 1,084 members have been deployed since Oct. 14, contributing 76,250 volunteer hours, completing 449 work orders, helping 1,030 individual families.
In all, that’s added up to $2.2 million worth of volunteer labor.
That “transparency” has encouraged corporations to support Team Rubicon – you may have seen T-Mobile’s promotions during last year’s Super Bowl. AT&T and Mountain Dew also underwrite the effort.
And anyone can join – 70 percent of volunteers are veterans, but 30 percent are non-veterans. Get particulars at teamrubiconusa.org