NEW ORLEANS --
When a humanitarian crisis occurs overseas, many Americans contribute to disaster relief by writing a check. Cpl. Adam Marlatt contributes by strapping a pack on his back, gathering his team and plunging headfirst into the disaster zone.
Marlatt, a 23-year-old Reserve Marine rifleman from New York, N.Y., is the founder and president of the Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (DIRT) organization, which was founded in 2010 after the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti. Marlatt describes DIRT’s mission as “Providing immediate assistance to victims of disasters all around the globe,” namely through providing transportation and logistical assistance and coordinating various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on the ground.
What separates Marlatt and Global DIRT from their NGO peers, however, is their unique history and approach to humanitarian work.
The idea of Global DIRT first came to Marlatt while deployed to Iraq in 2008 as an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. While in Iraq, Marlatt and his fellow Marines kicked around ideas on how to solve the shortcomings they saw in the humanitarian response efforts in the area. Marlatt came up with the idea of Global DIRT; however, no one thought he would actually act upon his ideas. Later, Marlatt decided to put his plans into motion after hearing about the situation in Haiti after the earthquake, which his friends described as a “complete horror show.” This spurred Marlatt into action.
Assembling a rag-tag team of former, active and reserve military veterans, Marlatt and his crew hit the ground running, quickly gaining a reputation as the kind of people who could get things done, military troubleshooters who could cut through red tape like a hot bayonet through butter and had the natural military disdain of bureaucracy. The group even became one of the main tools used by actor Sean Penn, who ran one of the larger humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti, leading such media organizations as Vanity Fair Magazine to label global DIRT as examples of “extreme humanitarianism.”
Marlatt says he prefers to have military veterans in his organization as they bring unique skill sets to the table desperately needed in disaster zones and don’t mind getting a little dirty in the process.
“These guys have certain skill sets you can’t get in a class room…being able to operate in high-stress situations and excel in chaos. We don’t have the traditional logistical burdens of an NGO… we can fly in and hump to where we need to go. We don’t have the mindset ‘Oh, we have to wait until a shipping container with a sleeping unit is brought in.’ You need the kind of guys who go ‘Aye Sir!’ and get the job done.”
One of the Marines exemplifying DIRT’s can-do spirit is 29-year-old Sgt. Riaan Roberts, a squad leader with Co. C, 1st Bn., 25th Marines, who, after being introduced to Marlatt, volunteered to help Marlatt and his team in Haiti.
Roberts said he and Marlatt spent a lot of time providing medical assistance to Haitian refugees. Marlatt, Roberts and the rest of their team showed little fear of the security situation and would dive into situations, such as riots, headfirst while their NGO counterparts would wait for armed escorts. Their approach allowed the team to be the first ones on the scene and, in the words of Roberts, “Save mad lives while other people sat in meetings.” Roberts credits Marlatt with most of the group’s success.
“Marlatt has all the connections and is always thinking about where to go. He is laid back, but is always masterminding everything,” said Roberts. “He knows the whole picture, which is great because I hate the big picture. It makes things confusing. He is a good piece of gear.”
Marlatt’s history of volunteerism precedes the founding of Global DIRT. Already a volunteer firefighter, he decided to join the Marine Corps and went to basic training in 2007. Marlatt’s family had a long history of military service, and the desire to be a Marine had been with him since he was young. Marlatt decided to join the Marine Corps Reserve instead of going active duty as it would give him more time to focus on both college and his volunteer work.
Despite volunteerism being a big part of his life, Marlatt describes his reason for volunteering in simple terms.
“It gives me the opportunity to give back,” said Marlatt. “It motivates me knowing there aren’t that many people that can assist in the way that I can. Most people pack up and go after their 20 minutes in the spot light.”
Roberts offered his own insight into Marlatt’s actions based on his time working with him.
“There is (stuff messed up) in the world and we have the ability to change it. He has a capacity to do things, I have a capacity, most people have a capacity but most people don’t want to do anything. He is aware of how things actually work and that’s a rare thing, to realize how your actions affect those around you.”
To date, Marlatt and the Global DIRT organization have assisted humanitarian efforts in one capacity or another in Haiti, Japan, New Zealand and Pakistan. Marlatt is currently undergoing pre-deployment training to deploy with his unit to Afghanistan and has spent his time between deployments working on a degree in business management at the University of New Hampshire.