445 AMDS Airman helps restore homes of hurricane victims

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smeltzer, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, demolishes the bathroom in the home of a disabled Vietnam veteran that was damaged during Hurricane Harvey

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smeltzer, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, demolishes the bathroom in the home of a disabled Vietnam veteran that was damaged during Hurricane Harvey. (Courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smeltzer, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, walks with Bruce, a disabled Vietnam veteran, to assess his home that was damaged during Hurricane Harvey

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smeltzer, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, walks with Bruce, a disabled Vietnam veteran, to assess his home that was damaged during Hurricane Harvey. (Courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smeltzer, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, and Jennifer Bentley, a fellow Team Rubicon volunteer, gut a room that once contained more than two feet of water as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smeltzer, 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, and Jennifer Bentley, a fellow Team Rubicon volunteer, gut a room that once contained more than two feet of water as a result of Hurricane Harvey. (Courtesy photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

While on vacation this past summer, Tech. Sgt. Cody Smeltzer, an Air Reserve Technician in the 445th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, had a chance encounter with an elderly man in Chicago Midway International Airport. The man, a United Services Organizations volunteer, told Smeltzer about Team Rubicon, a veteran-founded disaster relief organization.

“He told me that Team Rubicon consists of 70 percent Veteran membership,” Smeltzer said. “I thought to myself, if this old guy can get out there and help people, so can I.”

Fast forward two months, and Smeltzer hopped on a plane bound for the flood waters of Houston, Texas. He helped stand up a forward operating base for the region to host approximately 500 Team Rubicon volunteers who completed about 600 work orders in one month.

“I ran a demolition team of six people,” he said. “Our primary goal was to clean out the inside of damaged homes, in partnership with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).”

Working up to 10 hours per day for eight days straight, Smeltzer’s team accomplished this task in three homes. The volunteers slept on cots in a Salvation Army chapel between shifts.

“It can cost a lot of money to hire a commercial company to clean out flooded houses, and regular homeowner’s insurance doesn’t typically cover flood damage,” Smeltzer explained. “Some houses had extensive damage, and mold remediation was a big priority, too. The people down there didn’t have basic necessities like food, water and shelter.”

The team spent four days cleaning out a home belonging to a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran with no local family.

“We had to remove all the hardwood floors, drywall from floor to ceiling, and virtually all of his belongings,” Smeltzer recalled. “He had memorial flags inside his house from his brother’s funeral, and they were beginning to mold, so we removed them, cleaned and refolded the flags, then presented them to him. That was incredible.”

According to Team Rubicon’s website, the organization’s primary mission is providing disaster relief to those affected by natural disasters, be they domestic or international. By pairing the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders, medical professionals, and technology solutions, Team Rubicon aims to provide the greatest service and impact possible. 

For more information or to volunteer visit: www.teamrubiconusa.org.