Bunker Labs and Irreverent Warriors in Austin and Other Veterans Mobilize to Rescue People Following Hurricane Harvey

Johnathan Paul Wojtewicz with Bunker Labs helping rescue a deer from the storm, photo taken by John Litton, his brother-in-law and Army veteran.

On Monday morning following the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, Johnathan Wojtewicz headed to Houston in his truck towing a Jet Ski equipped with a boat deck capable of rescuing nine to ten people and animals.

But on the way to Houston, he ended up rescuing about 40 people stranded in their vehicles along the highway and working with the Pattison Volunteer Fire Department on the outskirts of Houston.

Later, Johnathan made it to Katy, a Houston suburb, where he connected with the Westlake Volunteer Fire Department, was issued a radio communications device and launched his boat to began rescuing individuals, families, and pets from the rising flood waters. Meanwhile, his wife, Sabrina worked radio dispatch from Austin using the Zello Walkie Talkie app and told him where to go to help people. They did all this as volunteers.

Hurricane Harvey is one of the most destructive natural events to hit Texas in its history.

Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain in areas of Houston leaving individuals and families stranded. That prompted businesses and individuals in the Austin, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth and other communities to mobilize and provide support.

Johnathan Paul Wojtewicz with Bunker Labs high fiving a rescued boy in the aftermath of Hurrican Harvey, photo taken by John Litton, his brother-in-law and Army veteran.

Chief among them is Johnathan, a Marine veteran, and Sabrina Wojtewicz, co-founders of Bunker Labs Austin, a nonprofit organization in Austin that provides help to veteran entrepreneurs. They are working closely with Samantha Brown, Chief Operating Officer of Irreverent Warriors, a veteran suicide prevention group based in Austin. They created the Austin to Houston Relief Efforts group on Facebook and coordinated volunteer efforts to rescue people from flood waters and save lives following the storm.

Johnathan slept in his truck for the first two days of the rescue mission. He’s still down in Houston rescuing people and plans to be there until he thinks everyone is safe, Sabrina said.

Meanwhile, Sabrina worked with Samantha to collect supplies and donations to take to Houston. Bunker Labs Austin, which is based at Capital Factory, a coworking and technology accelerator downtown, held a meeting to let volunteers know what they needed. Then they filled a massive M923 five ton decommissioned military truck, owned by Bob Leonard in the Lakeway Area. The truck collected donations in the parking lot of the Lakeway Christian Church.

“It was filled to max capacity,” Sabrina said.

The truck left Wednesday and delivered more than 240 cases of water, 500 pounds of food and all kinds of household items like blankets, towels and more to 2500 Central Parkway, a private business that donated space for a makeshift relief center and is now a center of operations for more than 200 prior-military service individuals donating their time, talent and resources. Now the truck, driven by Bob and his son, Robert Leonard, is delivering food to those who have opted not to leave their homes, Sabrina said.

On Wednesday, the volunteers began to run low on fuel. That’s when Justin Gilfus, founder of Ads For the Road, and a veteran, got a second truck and a 55-gallon drum of diesel fuel and took it to VFW Post 8787 to offload their collections before hightailing it to Houston to help rescue boats and trucks refill their tanks, Sabrina said.

More than 30 members of the Irreverent Warriors are on the ground in Houston with boats also and are assisting in the rescue and relief effort, Brown said.

“They are still going on multiple rescue missions,” she said. They are heading further South to the hard-hit Beaumont and Port Arthur region today.

And Brown’s brother, also a Marine, has coordinated a donation drive in the St. Louis area where he lives and is heading down on Saturday with three trailers filled with gas, clothing, cleaning supplies, chainsaws, clean sheets and more for those in need in the Houston area.

The group has also coordinated relief efforts for other parts of Texas hit hard by the storm.

“…our good friends have already made one private jet trip and landing in Rockport with generators, fuel, and much needed debris-clearing assistance!” Sabrina posted to Facebook. “ANYONE needing IN or OUT of Rockport can contact us and we can put them in touch.”

Lots of military veterans have come together during this catastrophe to save lives and provide relief to those affected by the hurricane in the Houston area, Sabrina said.

Dan Alarik, founder, and CEO of Gruntstyle.com, an Army veteran who makes clothing and gear with military and patriotic themes, drove from San Antonio to help out. His company is selling T-shirts to help those affected by the storm. His teams are running another Facebook group, HoustonRescue, with 170 members made up of “business owners, military members, and Patriots to assist with the efforts to rescue the members of Houston Texas during Hurricane Harvey.”

Brown wants everyone to know this is a long term effort and people still need help.

“Donations of clothing and water will run out,” she said. “FEMA is not a solution. FEMA is a starting-point.”

In the coming weeks, she will work with volunteer groups in work groups to clean up and repair homes. She directs people who want to help out with donations of money to the Red Cross and Team Rubicon, a veteran-led organization focused on community give-back service and programs.

As for Sabrina and Johnathan, they celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary on Tuesday. Johnathan texted Sabrina. The celebration will have to wait, she said.

“Helping others in need is our major focus right now,” she said.

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