TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Project DYNAMO has answered many calls for help after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Now, the non-profit made up of military veterans is stepping up at home in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Project DYNAMO’s co-founder Bryan Stern said the experiences abroad prepared them to respond to this natural disaster, but he pointed out this rescue mission had the added challenge of dealing with dangerous conditions on the water.

“A good friend of mine at the Sanibel Fire Department, he says that our boats were the first in the water,” Stern said.

In the last 13 months, the Tampa-based non-profit has evacuated thousands of people by land and air from Afghanistan and Ukraine.

“We’ve done a lot of things in our military careers on the water but never as DYNAMO,” Stern said. “The maritime environment is a hostile environment to operate in for sure.”

Stern said the destruction on the barrier Islands in Southwest Florida resembles a war zone.

“I’ve dealt with blown-up buildings and flattened buildings,” he said. “How they got flattened is a little bit different. Wind and water versus cruise missiles.”

(PROJECT Dynamo)

With communication cut off, Stern said friends and family with loved ones stranded on the islands requested help through projectdynamo.org.

“Very quickly,” Stern said. “I created a registration portal for Hurricane Ian just like Ukraine, just like Afghanistan.”

In seven days, DYNAMO has rescued between 40 and 50 survivors of Hurricane Ian. Stern said a number of them are fragile and elderly.

“We’ve had a lot of these really cherished moments of relief,” Stern said.

Then there are the many animal rescues, such as an operation Wednesday dubbed “Noah’s Ark.” DYANMO saved a rare bird sanctuary on Sanibel Island belonging to a family that lost nearly everything.

“If we can ease that pain a little bit by quote on quote rescuing 275 birds in a hundred cages and that eases this catastrophe just a little bit for them,” Stern said, “I’m really happy to do it.”

Stern said in many ways the evacuees they’ve rescued overseas are no different than the ones here at home.

“Talking to a family who lost their home, whose all their belongings are down to a shopping bag, I’ve had that conversation a lot this year and now I’m having it in Florida,” Stern said.

Stern returned to his home in Tampa Thursday. He said a week into the recovery from Hurricane Ian, he is surprised there hasn’t been a larger military response.

Stern and his team at donor-funded Project DYNAMO continue planning operations in Afghanistan, Ukraine and Southwest Florida.