Holland veteran Kyle Upton (middle) and other Team Rubicon volunteers helped hurricane victims in Wharton, Texas Sept. 29-Oct. 6. (Courtesy | Kyle Upton)(
HOLLAND, MI – Many people say they want to help others when they see natural disaster victims in the news, but few do anything about it. Holland veteran Kyle Upton is among those few.
As he saw more and more news coverage of damage left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the 46-year-old said he felt increasingly compelled to help those in Texas.
"Sometimes we’ve got to get out of our La-Z-Boys and go get it done," he said.
Upton contacted Team Rubicon, a company that combines the skills and experiences of military veterans and first responders, rapidly deploying emergency response teams to sites like Texas.
As part of Team Rubicon’s Operation Hard Hustle, Upton spent eight days helping hurricane victims in Wharton, Texas. From Sept. 29 to Oct. 6, Upton and other volunteers in the operation were deployed throughout Wharton as part of a field-based "strike team."
When Kraft Meadows Middle School teachers Todd DeJong and Alex Gates gave their sixth-grade students $2 in seed funds to help raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, they probably didn’t imagine just how far that money would go.
The volunteers offered direct recovery support to homeowners impacted by flooding and other hurricane-related damage, according to a letter sent to Upton’s employer from Jim Leckinger, he operation’s incident commander.
Leckinger said volunteers removed debris, worked with chainsaws, and completed mucking and gutting and demolition services free-of-charge to homeowners who could otherwise not afford to rebuild their flood-ravaged homes.
Volunteers would contact residents by phone before entering their homes, as the residents were often at Federal Emergency Management Agency camps and not at home, Upton said. As such, volunteers usually did not typically meet the residents they were helping in-person.
One memorable moment of the operation came when the team was working on the home of a 70-year-old woman, Upton said. She had been living in her car for five weeks. The team went into her home, removed all the debris and damaged drywall, ensuring the woman had a place to stay.
"I think we all have grandparents and I think it hits home to see an elderly person in that situation," Upton said.
Overall, he said his team worked on at least 15 homes in Wharton during their time there.
Now back in Michigan, Upton keeps in contact with other volunteers through Facebook.
He said the operation was an international effort, with volunteers from the U.S., Norway, Australia and other countries.
"It was great, we all had a common goal," Upton said. "To help humanity."
Upton served in the U.S. military from 1990-1996, including four years with the National Guard and two in the Army Reserve.
David Cook is the CEO of Code Blue Corp., Upton’s employer in Holland, and a Navy veteran himself. Cook said the company is proud of Upton’s initiative to volunteer his time to bring relief to those affected by Hurricane Harvey.