It’s been nearly a decade since former U.S. Marines Sergeant Marvin Avilez served his last tour in Iraq. Yet, the skills he gained working 14 years in counterintelligence and interrogation still come in handy, and he’s now using them to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York City. And, he’s doing it all with very little sleep.
Team Rubicon, a non-profit that recruits veterans and matches their skill set with specific disasters, sent Avilez from his home in downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn on Saturday to help prepare for the impending storm which ultimately killed at least 100 people and has displaced thousands in the northeastern U.S.
“As the storm was approaching, assistance was requested from military veterans,” says the 42-year-old born to Nicaraguan parents. “As a result my job was to create jump teams.”
Avilez explains that jump teams “jump” from location to location depending where the most pressing danger is, and his job is to gather as much intelligence as possible to organize their missions.
“Last night from midnight to 8am, I was in Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, midtown, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn again,” says Avilez about traveling to the different boroughs of New York at night because there is less traffic. “Situations are occurring at the different locations. If someone doesn’t pick up the phone, I need to know why.”
If a manager needs extra help at a housing center, for example, or someone needs medication or needs to be moved, the jump team is called. He says at one point, the team got as big as 13 members, but it has now dispersed to different missions — one of which launched yesterday in Rockaway Beach to pick up debris and remove trees.
“I’m spending most of my time in the field,” says Avilez. “…With flooding up to my waist, my lower chest…I got to shower for the first time yesterday. I just sleep wherever I get sleep. It’s very similar to military deployment — you get sleep where you can get it, and keep moving.”
He says although he uses his military skill sets and intelligence on how to start generators and bringing solutions to unforeseen problems, he says sometimes the most important aspect of the mission is to build rapport with people.
“There is a woman I spoke to at a shelter…93 years old and very depressed, and she just wanted to talk to someone,” says Avilez. “A lot of emotional support is needed.”
Avilez is no stranger to his sensitive side, as he also volunteers at the Soledad O’Brien + Brad Raymond Foundation.
“We raise money to help girls get a college degree,” he says. “We make sure that all their barriers are taken away. If you need money to buy books, pay rent, we take care of all of that. I spend a lot of time doing strategy and operations around that foundation.”
For now though, he’s working 24-7 to make life better for the hurricane victims.
“This is a bad situation, and at the end of the day, we have very little time,” says Avilez. “Let’s make the worst situations better.”