“Hey? Jake Wood? It’s McNulty. William McNulty. Remember we talked six months ago?”
Vaguely. Barely. “Yeah,” Jake said. “What can I do for you?”
“I saw your Facebook post about Haiti,” McNulty said. “I’m in.”
It was January 13, 2010. A day earlier, Jake Wood had been sitting in his apartment in Burbank, glued to the news about the devastation in Haiti—the collapsed buildings, wounded civilians, the chaos in the streets. It looked a lot like a war zone. He had been there before, in Iraq and Afghanistan. He realized that he missed it.
Jake had been honorably discharged from the Marines in October 2009. His plan was to make the transition to full-fledged adulthood. He was applying to business schools for an MBA. But right now, Jake couldn’t take his eyes off the tube. They were saying that no relief was getting into Haiti because of the general chaos and the fear of armed street gangs—but would the gangs be an organized threat, real soldiers, like the Taliban? He doubted it. And if they were terrorizing the populace, all the more reason for a Marine to go in and protect the civilians.
The airport was closed on account of anarchy, apparently. So he called the Red Cross and talked to a nice lady. He told her that he was a Marine sergeant, a college graduate, and that he had experience in disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina.
“Are you a Red Cross volunteer?”
“That’s why I’m calling. To volunteer.”
“We’re not taking spontaneous volunteers. You have to be trained. It’s dangerous down there.”
“I’m a… Marine,” he said, carefully editing the f-bomb. “I can do danger. Don’t you need people who can, like, protect the medical personnel?”
She was sure they did. But that would require training, too.
“How long does the training take?”
“Anywhere from a day to a week… but I’m not sure we’re taking inexperienced people, in any case.”
Inexperienced? He hung up. “Fuck it,” he said. “I’m going anyway.” He posted his intentions on Facebook and started calling his friends. Later that day, McNulty called.
McNulty was also a Marine sergeant, an intelligence specialist. He was trying to start an intelligence consulting firm and a film company, which he would call Title X Productions. McNulty had become aware of Jake a few years earlier, when a friend had turned him on to a blog called Jake’s Life, which Jake used to tell war stories to the folks and former football teammates back home.
McNulty was an obsessive consumer of war news—he read everything he could find on the net—and Jake seemed like one of those guys who had his head screwed on straight, who hadn’t been addled by bloodlust or anomie. When Jake blogged that he was leaving the military, William had called to see if he was interested in working for Title X. He and Jake had several phone conversations before Jake finally said thanks, but no thanks.
And now, out of nowhere, Will McNulty was on the phone, and he had some very good ideas. Will knew a priest back in Chicago who knew a Jesuit Brother down in Port-au-Prince, who was asking for help. Within a matter of hours, Will arranged for them to meet up the next day with Brother Jim Boynton in the Dominican Republic, which shared the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Brother Jim would be carrying medical supplies across the border, and McNulty offered to get letters of passage from both governments.
So, 24 hours after being rejected by the Red Cross, Jake had a partner and a mission. “What are we going to call this operation?” McNulty asked.
In a Jesuitical frame of mind, McNulty emailed Jake a bunch of Latin possibilities. Jake liked “Rubicon.” It was the river Julius Caesar had crossed when he returned to Rome on his way to overturning the Republic and establishing himself as emperor. It was the point of no return.
“That’s kind of cool,” Jake said. “We’ve got to cross a river to get into Haiti, right?”
His first thought was to call it Operation Rubicon, but McNulty was wary: an “operation” suggested a lot more organization and planning than they had done. “Let’s call it Team Rubicon,” Will said. “You don’t want to oversell.”
Also that day, Jake revived his wartime blog. His first post began: “I knew I’d come out of retirement at some point.”
Copyright © 2015 by Joe Klein. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.