Team Rubicon earthquake relief effort has international flair

By Seth Robson

KATHMANDU, Nepal — U.S. and British veterans are teaming up with ex-Gurkhas to bring aid to Nepal earthquake victims.

Team Rubicon — a group of U.S. veterans who use their military training to help people after disasters — has sent several teams to Nepal in recent days. About 20 members are working with eight British military veterans, the Gurkhas and Nepali doctors in quake-hit villages.

Gurkhas — whose name comes from Nepal’s Gorkha region — have served with British forces for more than 200 years. They participated in both world wars and have been involved in numerous other missions, with multiple deployments to Afghanistan in recent years.

There are about 3,000 Gurkhas serving with the British army today. They have a reputation for being disciplined, loyal and friendly, said British army Lance Cpl. Hasta Gurung, 46, a former Gurkha who is helping guide Team Rubicon in Nepal.

The death toll from the April 26 earthquake surpassed 7,200 over the weekend as search-and-rescue workers reached into more remote parts of the Himalayan country.

Gurung, who still serves as a military policeman in Britain, said his home village, near the quake’s epicenter in the Barpak region, was leveled.

“My village is completely wiped out. Two people died, and my close relatives are homeless. The surrounding villages were destroyed, too,” he said Sunday as he helped U.S. and British veterans plan an aid mission.

Team Rubicon has brought medical supplies from the U.S. and has set up camp at another company’s office in Kathmandu.

This is the first disaster for Dennis Clancy, 32, of Phoenix, a former U.S. Army infantry captain and Iraq veteran, since he joined Team Rubicon six months ago. The export company owner said Kathmandu became saturated with aid workers early, so Team Rubicon is focused on distant villages.

On Saturday, Clancy and Gurang were looking at maps to work out where to send aid while other former servicemembers tested generators.

“It is just a matter of getting good enough intelligence and getting to areas that other aid groups haven’t gone to,” Clancy said.

Team Rubicon travels light so members can walk to hard-to-reach areas, he said.

“There have been landslides and avalanches in some places that have covered roads, and people can’t get out,” said Nick Mrzlak, 42, of Farmington, N.M., an ex-Navy hospital corpsman.

Mrzlak has already spent two days camping at Malemchi — an area northwest of Kathmandu that suffered severe damage.

“We were doing very basic first aid and we set up a clinic and saw about 100 patients,” he said.

At this time of year Nepal is warm at low elevations, but team members expect to work in snow and freezing temperatures in some of the most isolated, high-altitude villages, he said.

Aid — in the form of food, medical supplies, search-and-rescue teams — has poured in from dozens of countries and aid organizations. So far, the Nepalese earthquake victims have been appreciative of the foreign volunteers’ help but some are frustrated at slow delivery of government aid, Mrzlak said.

There have been reports of relief materials piling up at the airport because of a customs backlog, although USAID officials dispute the claim. Agency officials say the supplies are being stored away from the airport before being sent out.

One of the British veterans helping Team Rubicon is Chloe Russell, 33, a former British army captain. Russell is using skills she honed on four deployments to Afghanistan with the Royal Logistics Corps to get hold of gear, such as batteries, that team members need.

Team Rubicon United Kingdom plans to set up this year. Its first aid mission was to have been to the Philippines, but when spots opened up for the Nepal mission, Russell decided to go.

On Sunday, she was preparing to drive three hours from Kathmandu to Langtang, which has yet to receive much help, she said.

“I’m a bit nervous but I want to get out there and see what I can do to help,” she said. “I feel privileged to be here.”