13 Questions with Team Rubicon in Nepal
By Doc Bailey
The recent earthquake in Nepal was devastating to the country. A mere 48 hours after the earthquake (it takes 24 to get there by air), Team Rubicon launched Operation Tenzing and were providing medical assistance and disaster relief to the residents of Kathmandu and more importantly to the remote mountain villages outside of the city limits. Through the magic of email The Rhino Den was able to secure an interview with Tim Fortney, a Veteran of the Marine Corps, registered nurse and Team Rubicon Volunteer.
TRD: Tell us about yourself, where are you from, how old are you, what branch of the military were you in, what is your occupation now?
TF: I am 29 and grew up in the St. Louis area. I served as a Scout-Sniper in the United States Marine Corps and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the USMC in 2009, I returned to the St. Louis area to continue my education. In 2013, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science of Nursing from the University of Missouri – St. Louis. I currently work as staff registered nurse in a St. Louis city emergency department. This fall, I am returning to school in order to pursue a degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
TRD: What drew you to Team Rubicon?
TF: I have known Team Rubicon since before the organization had a name and was officially an organization. Jake Wood, one of Team Rubicon’s co-founders, and I served in the same sniper platoon and remain good friends. Early in January 2010, I received a call from Jake asking if I wanted to go to Haiti. Unfortunately, due to school starting the following week, I was unable to go. I remember speaking with Jake in depth when he returned and how the combination of veterans, coupled with healthcare professionals, was so effective in Haiti. After speaking with Jake, and hearing about the difference they were able to make, and his plans to implement the model we now know as Team Rubicon on a larger scale, I was hooked. What really caught my intention was the simplicity of the idea. Taking the skills that have become second nature to veterans and repurposing them to aid in disaster relief it just made sense to me. Initially, my relationship with Jake drew me to Team Rubicon, but when I witnessed Jake and Will’s vision to give veterans a renewed purpose and new community through disaster relief, I knew I had to be part of Team Rubicon.
TRD: What is your job with Team Rubicon? What are your responsibilities/duties?
TF: On Operation Tenzing, I was deployed as part of the medical element. As a member of the medical element, I have been tasked with triaging and treating the injured and sick we encounter. However, as the mission evolves, the medical mission has diminished and our focus has shifted to humanitarian aid and providing shelter.
TRD: How long have you been with Team Rubicon?
TF: I have been with Team Rubicon since the beginning. My first official Team Rubicon deployment was in 2011 when Joplin, Missouri was hit by an EF5 that destroyed most of the town. This was the first time I had the opportunity to witness first hand Team Rubicon’s impact on a community after a disaster. It was also at this time I realized what “it” was that I had been missing since leaving the military. Just because you leave the military and take off the uniform does not mean the reasons you joined have left you. Team Rubicon gave me the opportunity to once again serve my nation and make a difference, something that had been missing since leaving the Marines in 2009.
TRD: Since the operations in Nepal started what are some of the things you’ve seen and done that have left an impression?
TF: Since operations began in Nepal, I have had the opportunity to have a significant positive impact in the Nepalese people. To me, the most powerful moment came on my second day of operating. I was part of a six person medical team that had hiked from our base camp to a remote village in the mountains. While in the village, we were able to provide medical care, as well as provide the villagers with food and fresh water. After spending most of the day in the village, we began packing up our gear to return to base camp. It was at this time that one of the village leaders stepped up and thanked us for coming to their village and providing aid after being translated by Man, one of our Gurkha team members. The villager had thanked us for coming “out of nowhere” to their village when they believed, after seeing multiple helicopters fly over and not stop, that no one was coming to help them. The villager, with tears in his eyes, thanked us for coming “such a great distance” through difficult terrain to help their village and give them hope. This was one week after the earthquake and no traditional NGO had been to this village or was planning to go to this village. But, this is what Team Rubicon does; no other NGO was going to carry 70 pound packs fifteen miles up a mountain to help these people; nobody but Team Rubicon.
TRD: What is a typical day like on Operation Tenzing?
TF: There really is not a typical day on Operation Tenzing. The situation is very fluid and you have to be flexible if you want to thrive in this environment. One constant though, is the days begin early and end late. One day you could be setting up a clinic and treating patients, and the next you could be moving debris or helping someone build shelter. Most of my days started at about 0600 and included nice, long walks with heavy packs into the mountains, to remote villages, to provide medical aid, and ended at about 2200 prepping for the next day’s mission.
TRD: How quickly was TR on the scene after the disaster started?
TF: I arrived in Nepal five days after the earthquake, but Team Rubicon had members on the ground in Nepal within 48 hours. This is impressive when you consider to get to Kathmandu, it is 24+ hours total flight time.
TRD: What is the infrastructure like in Nepal and what challenges does this present to Team Rubicon?
TF: Disaster response for the international community is based in Kathmandu. However, Kathmandu is not that the hardest hit area of the country; the more remote, outlying areas are those that have been the hardest hit. This presents problems getting reliable and actionable intelligence to drive our missions. Team Rubicon’s “go anywhere, do anything, nothing is too small” attitude has really aided us in getting missions where there has been little or no support. In my opinion, some of the larger, more traditional aid organizations are struggling with this. While it is not an ideal situation, Team Rubicon’s structure of deploying small, highly mobile-capable teams has made us more relevant and in no short supply of missions.
TRD: What kind of support is Team Rubicon bringing to the region?
TF: While there are only approximately thirty Team Rubicon members on the ground, the team has a great amount of capabilities and has been deployed in numerous ways. In addition to the primary medical mission, the team has been utilized to provide humanitarian aid, damage assessments, reconnaissance of remote areas, UAV reconnaissance, and debris removal/reconstructions.
TRD: How have you been received?
TF: The Nepalese people have been very welcoming and grateful for our assistance. The Nepalese people are proud and resilient, and it has been an honor to work with them and provide them aid.
TRD: How does an international operation compare to a domestic operation?
TF: International operations tend to be a smaller group, selected due to specific skill sets to meet the mission’s needs. Often times, international missions have more of a medical focus and deploy a larger group of medical professionals. Domestic operations are typically larger and are more open to who deploys. Domestic missions also do not typically focus on the medical mission, but instead on assisting the community recover through aiding in debris removal and recovery operations.
TRD: What kind of skills does TR look for, or need in operations like this?
TF: The type of skills required to deploy depend heavily on the nature of the operation. For Operation Tenzing, initially, there was a large medical need due to the nature of the mission and the thousands left injured in the earthquakes wake. Team Rubicon’s initial request was for emergency medicine physicians/physician assistants/nurse practitioners, emergency department or surgical nurses, and paramedics. The rest of the team was composed of engineers, logistics specialists, and emergency management specialists.
TRD: How has working with TR changed you?
TF: I don’t think Team Rubicon has changed me. What Team Rubicon has done is, once again, provided me with an outlet to serve a cause larger than myself. Team Rubicon has also created a bastion where those bold enough to believe their actions can change the world can do so while working with a group of dedicated like-minded individuals.
You can learn more about Team Rubicon by visiting their site or by volunteering with them.