BROWNSVILLE — They came from all walks of life, from as near as Lebanon and as far away as Colorado, veterans and civilians alike.

But Friday through Sunday they all became one under the Team Rubicon flag at Oak Basin Tree Farm south of Brownsville. Their mission was to tackle wildfire mitigation and train for possible summer fire disasters.

Albany resident Bill Blair is a retired county fair manager. Will Chiaffino graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1994, but now lives in Lancaster, California, and is the assistant air field manager at Edwards Air Base. Jodi Martinez served in the Army amphibious corps, and lives in Lebanon. She was the senior Team Rubicon member, with eight years under her belt.

The weekend drill was both a community service and a training exercise for the group, whose mission is disaster recovery on an international basis. Founded in 2010, Team Rubicon now has 65,000-plus volunteers who are trained and available for deployment around the world.

About 70 percent are veterans — Blair and Martinez served in the Army. Chiaffino served in the Navy, as did Britni Ryan, who traveled 1,240 miles from Arvada, Colorado.

“I was watching a college football game on ESPN when there was a special piece about Team Rubicon,” Blair said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m a vet. I can do that.’”

That was in October 2017. Blair is now the Salem city administrator for the program in the mid-valley. The Monmouth native has lived in Albany for seven years and has deployed to nine operations around the country.

He says there are about 260 members in Yamhill, Polk, Marion, Benton and Linn counties.

Becoming a Team Rubicon member is easy, Blair said.

Individuals can go online to create a profile. There is a background check and then incident command systems training.

“There’s also training about Team Rubicon culture. We like to say that your mother is a donor. That means we spend donated money wisely,” Blair said.

The program’s financials are posted on its website.

Blair said the most recent local projects were in the McKenzie Bridge area during the winter snowstorms and three weeks ago when there was flooding in Pendleton.

“We have teams in Nebraska and Colorado right now helping with flooding issues,” Blair said.

Blair said the sense of community bonding through Team Rubicon is amazing.

Team Rubicon volunteers are trained to do everything from using chain saws to debris management, running heavy equipment, making minor home repairs and “mucking out” flooded buildings.

Team Rubicon learned about the possibility of training locally through Mike Wolff, a team member who also works at Oak Basin Tree Farm.

“We are thankful you are here,” Wolff said. “Anything you do will be a benefit to our neighbors and ourselves. Forest fire specialists are going to also visit and teach our neighbors about developing defensible space around their homes.”

Projects range from those requiring dozens of team members that take weeks, to cleaning the backyard of a veteran, a project that might take a day, Blair said.

“Most of us are veterans and we want to serve others on their worst day,” Blair said. “You have to be able to interface with families, to have empathy and sympathy and most important of all, to be able to listen as they tell their story.”

Blair said volunteers can choose deployments based on information at the Team Rubicon website,

Chiaffino said he joined Team Rubicon last fall after learning about it while volunteering with FEMA in Florida.

“I like the shared military mentality of the volunteers,” Chiaffino said. “There is a camaraderie and we all have to same desire to work hard to get things done for people in need. Plus, it’s a global effort.”

Jodi Martinez started off “mucking out” flooded buildings eight years ago. Today, she primarily works in logistics, such as making sure food is on site and ready when the work day is done.

Other team members were Bob Small of Salem, Tony Pinella of Portland, Brian Kirkwood of Seattle, Cole LaFazio of Portland.

Before getting started, the team held a safety meeting and checked all equipment. They worked in a variety of weather that kept shifting from clear and partly sunny to cloudy, rainy and windy.

Property owner Jim Merzenich told the volunteers about the history of Oak Basin Tree Farm, which he owns with his brother, Ed. The men have put together nearly 1,000 acres of land that had been cut over.

Over the last 25 years they have planted more than 200,000 seedlings, removed acres of blackberries and other invasive species and restored native oak savannah.

He said recent hot summers have been hard on the trees and understory build-up of dead limbs and dried grasses is concerning.

In addition to their timber program, they also make essential oils, harvest tree boughs for holiday decorations and provide wooden handles for a broom-making company in Eugene. They also run several head of Scottish highland cattle on the farm.

All Team Rubicon projects are free and expenses are paid through the national program.

Although about 70 percent of Team Rubicon members are veterans, membership is open to all.

Team Rubicon was founded in 2010 by William McNulty and Jacob Wood, after the former Marines volunteered in Haiti.

Team Rubicon’s goals are to get boots on the ground as quickly as possible and to help integrate veterans back into civilian life while using the skills they learned in the military.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.


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