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Six veterans pose for a photo in front of several pieces of heavy machinery
Information icon The six-person Team and equipment they’re now trained on, with thanks to FWS instructor Aaron Eaton, far right. Photo by Jessica Sutt, FWS.

Veterans training and hurricane restoration combine at Florida wildlife refuge

Team Rubicon is a veterans service organization that uses disaster response to help reintegrate veterans back into civilian life. Veteran-founded, this international service organization employs leadership and organizational skills to assist communities with disaster response and recovery.

At Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Project Leader Kevin Godsea recognized a partnership opportunity when David Venables of Team Rubicon called him to ask if he could partner with the refuge for field training. Venables had been working in nearby Immokalee, Florida, to help the community with Hurricane Irma restoration. Through this involvement, he knew of a small cadre of veterans needing heavy equipment training to facilitate their Team Rubicon volunteerism and continued disaster response efforts. Venables was also able to suggest a Service equipment instructor who could provide the training. He just needed some equipment and a location.

Godsea and his staff were in the process of their own Irma restoration, which included tearing down and rebuilding a damaged pole barn. He offered a second day of Rubicon training to help with the project. That solidified a partnership, and an early September date was set.

Heavy machinery tearing down a wooden structure with a metal roof
Demolition begins on a pole barn damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Photo by Mark Danaher, USFWS.

Team Rubicon contacted their heavy equipment partner Case International to deliver some items for the pole barn teardown. Service Equipment Operator Aaron Eaton flew in to provide instruction to four veterans. The six-person team of instructors and veterans tore down the 190-foot pole barn in one day. This involved breaking down and placing the barn debris in waste disposal dumpsters using heavy equipment.

The remnants of a razed pole barn
The entire pole barn was removed and disposed of by Team Rubicon trainees. Photo by Jessica Sutt, USFWS.

The group was so efficient that they had time during their second day for a swamp buggy tour, led by Wildlife Refuge Specialist Jessica Sutt. The four vets were impressed by the buggy, the refuge, and informative tour. They walked off the refuge with exclamations of “What a great day!”


Ben Nottingham, deputy project leader, Florida Panther NWR, (239) 657-8010

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