Teams of veterans paired Tuesday with Lake County homeowners recovering from this month's record floods, as the national disaster relief organization Team Rubicon launched "Operation Fox Yeah" to help suburban communities recover from the disaster.
A four-person unit led by Air Force veteran Peggy Schnack was busy in a Round Lake Beach home that took on about a foot of water during flash flooding two weeks ago. They ripped out and removed everything that had been ruined, including vinyl flooring, kitchen cabinets, sections of drywall and even insulation from the crawl space.
The operation is the eighth Team Rubicon mission for Schnack, who is a deacon at an Episcopal church where she lives near Minneapolis. Formed by a pair of former U.S. Marines in 2010 after a massive earthquake in Haiti, Team Rubicon deploys veterans and first responders to disaster areas to offer free assistance to those who need it.
Schnack said she made the seven-hour drive to the suburbs after church Sunday and will spend four days here helping.
"The look (the people we help) get in their eyes when you talk to them, it makes all the sweat and sore muscles worth it," Schnack said.
Scott Nargis, a former Army sergeant from Ashland, Wisconsin, said the team was the only one mucking out a home Tuesday. Others fanned out to assess damage elsewhere.
"We have more than 1,000 requests for assistance already," Nargis said.
As the weeks go on, assessment teams will gradually be switched over to "strike" teams like Schnack's crew.
Operation Fox Yeah is expected to last 30 to 45 days.
Requests are tracked through a high-tech system at the organization's command center at Johnsburg Junior High School in Johnsburg, Nargis said. The system helps organizers best utilize the resources they have.
Out-of-town volunteers will eat, bathe and sleep at the school during their time on the mission. Nargis said he's happy they have cots, an amenity not guaranteed on other missions.
"As long as we have a roof over our head, four walls and a place to shower, we're OK," he said.
Nargis said the recovery work they do is often a repurposing of the skills veterans used while in the military.
The people he's helped struggle to believe that all the services they provide are free and that volunteers regularly use vacation time to come out and work.
"We may ask for a hug, but it's free besides that," Nargis said.
"Sometimes I feel bad for feeling so good at the end of the day after helping people."
Residents seeking an assessment from Team Rubicon can call (800) 451-1954.