Team Rubicon helping to clean-up Marshalltown

‘Operation Hawkeye Down’

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY Left: Team Rubicon members from throughout the United States huddle-up last week to discuss local crisis-clean-up and repair projects as part of their tornado relief work. Shortly after July 19, much of their work required them to cut up trees to allow safe entry into houses and apartments for residents. Right: Lee Skaar, of Northfield, Minn. and formerly of Marshalltown, is pictured carrying debris while he and daughter Kristin, walking behind, worked with Team Rubicon members on repairing a structure on North 4th Street earlier this week. The Skaars are Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Earlier this week, a sagging porch roof on a North 4th Street house was getting double the help with volunteers from Team Rubicon and Habitat for Humanity.

The crew of men and women, older and younger, worked to remove the sagging roof which made entry into the modest house impossible. The entry is safely passable now, and the project, and partnership with Habitat for Humanity, represents what Team Rubicon (TR) is all about.

In military parlance, the ongoing tornado clean-up and repair is “Operation Hawkeye Down.” Fittingly, the state’s nickname as “The Hawkeye State” and Marshalltown is down, but not out.

Helping Marshalltown rise again, perhaps better and stronger than before is TR. Their mission is to clean-up debris and repair damage on apartments and houses as safely and quickly as possible.

They kicked into gear shortly after TR leadership received the report on the massive destruction from local veterans not long after the vicious July 19 tornado lifted-off. Next, they mobilized local team members to serve as the “advance team” 12-hours after the EF-3 tornado lifted-off.

The first “wave” of Team Rubicon — approximately 60 strong — arrived July 24. They have departed, having been replaced by the second team of nearly 55.

They are hard to miss.

Team members wear grey Tee-shirts with the TR logo in back and the volunteer’s first name in front. They can be seen working in Marshalltown’s northeast and northwest quadrants — where the tornado cut its ugly swath complete with uprooted trees, broken windows and crushed roofs. TR are men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 72, 70 percent military veterans and 30 percent civilian.

The all-volunteer group is billeted at the Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA’s Cultural Center, commonly known as the “Old Y.” The facility is also know as the Forward Operating Base by TR.

Sleeping on American Red Cross cots, team members are busy from early morning to late afternoon. They use rented trucks and other vehicles, some supplied by sponsor Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Many flew in or had connecting flights on sponsor Southwest Airlines.

Commanding volunteers is Kazimieras Urbonavicius, also known as “Kaz,” or “Kazy.” The Cleveland, Ohio resident is a former U.S. Marine and later, a U.S. Army Reservist who was wounded in combat during the “War on Terror.” Kaz is now retired, with Marshalltown being his fourth volunteer deployment this year.

Help for Marshalltown played out this way: The advance team talked to local leadership, received an assessment of the situation and then determined how many “grey shirts” or TR members were needed to mobilize. Next they found the Cultural Center — ideal because of its showers, bathrooms and parking. Finding rental vehicles was a challenge because RAGBRAI — the Register’s Annual Great Big Ride Across Iowa — was underway.

They got the job done.

The first wave set up the sleeping quarters and command center. Next, damage assessment teams went out and identified the northeast quadrant as hardest hit.

“We went house to house, talked to the residents and then, after they signed a liability waiver, we can go on to their property, assess the damage and see what we can do to help,” Kaz said. “The focus is to get people safely back into their homes. If the driveway, front door, back door have a giant tree in front of it, we remove it. Next, we might install tarp on roofs, wood over broken windows, debris removal and chain-saw work.”

The latter is done with Stihl chain-saws, another TR sponsor. Chain-saw users received extensive training and wear protective clothing and gloves.

Any resident whose apartment or home suffered at the hands of the 144-mph winds and signed the waiver is eligible for help. Local translators arranged by a UnityPoint Health employee who is also a TR volunteer have helped clean-up crews communicate with Latino residents.

Kaz said TR prides itself with working in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross or Federal Emergency Management officials.

An earthquake which devastated Haiti in January, 2010 served as the genesis for TR.

“In the days following, many traditional aid organizations were slow to establish relief efforts, citing dangerous and unstable working conditions,” according to the TR website. “Troubled by the scenes in Port-au-Prince and the lack of proper aid, two Marines, Jake Wood and William McNulty, decided to act. Gathering supplies and volunteers, the small group of veterans, first responders, and medical professionals deployed to Haiti in the days following the earthquake.

In moments, hundreds of thousands were injured, infrastructure and buildings were destroyed, countless were made homeless.

Crossing over the Artibonite River, the natural border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the small team of eight volunteers called themselves ‘Team Rubicon’ in reference to the Rubicon River in Italy – by crossing their Rubicon, the team acknowledged they were irrevocably committed to their task of helping those in need.

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon at the head of his legions and marched on Rome, it marked a point of no return. The phrase ‘crossing the Rubicon’ has since survived in reference to any group committing itself to a risky course of action.”

TR is now 80,000 strong.

It is a 501(c)3 non-governmental organization headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. For more information, they can be reached at 310-640-8787 or visit


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or