Former Badger Wood spearheads rescue team in Haiti
As he watched the chaotic scenes from Haiti unfold on television, Jake Wood worried that large-scale relief efforts couldn't move quickly enough to reach many of the earthquake victims in time.
And Wood knew his leadership and survival skills put him in a unique position to help; Wood, 26, was a reserve offensive lineman for the University of Wisconsin before joining the Marines, where he served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So Wood posted an Internet message to his friends: I'm going to Haiti. Who's in?
A few people volunteered right away - including Jeff Lang, a former Badgers teammate who now works as a firefighter in Milwaukee. Wood then recruited a few doctors and EMTs to the team during his flight to the Dominican Republic.
Today, Wood and his hastily assembled ``Team Rubicon'' are on the rural outskirts of Port-au-Prince, trying to bring emergency medical care to victims who are running out of time.
``They're moving out into the 'boonies,' faster than other people can,'' said Wood's father, Jeff, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his home in Bettendorf, Iowa. ``They say when the Red Cross and others catch up with them, it's time to move on.''
Although communication is sporadic at best - team members use Internet-enabled mobile phones charged by solar panels - Wood has talked to his son a few times since he left for Haiti. Jake Wood told his father about nightmarish scenes of untreated victims who have been waiting on help for days while supplies pile up at the airport.
``In a week, everybody will be taken care of,'' Jeff Wood said. ``That'll be too late for a lot of people.''
Jeff Wood says Team Rubicon has raised approximately $70,000 in donations, mostly through Internet social media networks, his son's blog - blog.teamrubiconhaiti.org - and a handful of mentions in the mainstream media.
``My first reaction was, 'Jake, you're not in the Marines any more, but you have a special set of skills. You would be ashamed of yourself if you didn't try to use them to help people,''' Jake Wood told the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper, in an interview before he left for Haiti.
Gary Cagle, a volunteer who is organizing a group of additional workers to join the team in Haiti, estimates that they have acquired at least $100,000 worth of donated medical equipment and hope to have a total of 50 people on the ground in Haiti.
``Not bad for an organization Jake started only about a week ago, huh?,'' Cagle said in an e-mail.
In a recent phone conversation, Jake told his father that the team had saved 20 lives that day. On the blog, a team member posted a photo of the team's makeshift maternity ward.
But such triumphs are temporary breaks from an overwhelming backdrop of tragedy.
``It's horrible,'' Jeff Wood said. ``It's absolutely horrible. (Jake) said in combat, he's used to seeing wounds that are fresh. Here, he's seeing wounds that are six days old.''
In a blog post Tuesday night, Jake Wood described one of the team's doctors trying, unsuccessfully, to save a woman whose pelvic bone was protruding through her skin.
``Frustrated, he finally back off and with sadness told her, 'I'm sorry, I can't do it,''' Jake Wood wrote. ``She simply, weakly, smiled and nodded. At least he cared enough to try.''
Jeff Wood knows the experience has been difficult on his son.
``He's getting weary,'' Jeff Wood said. ``I think he feels like he's emptying the ocean with a teacup sometimes. I don't know how you compare it with seeing your buddy get his limbs blown off. But he's a compassionate person.''
And not someone who looks for the easy way out.
As a former Big Ten athlete, the Marines encouraged Wood to go to officer school; he turned it down.
``He said, 'I'm not going to sit in a command post and direct people. If I'm going to ask people to go through a door, I want to go through it, too,''' Jeff Wood said.
Jake went on to become a Marine scout sniper, trained to move in the shadows and hunt down enemy targets with precision. Given his survival skills, Jeff says he isn't worried about his son's safety in Haiti; at least, he jokes, Jake is in the Western Hemisphere.
``I'm not worried about it,'' Jeff Wood said. ``His mom's a little upset.''
And while Wood beams about his son's leadership skills, he would prefer that people focus on the team's collective accomplishments.
``Jake just happened to be the person that started it,'' Jeff Wood said.