By Megan Anderle, Editor and Contributing Writer

“It doesn’t hurt? At all???” I ask Pam Gieselman in disbelief as she’s getting a black-and-red diamond inked on her wrist.

“Nope!” she peeps back. Gieselman is surprisingly perky despite having a sharp needle embedded in her right wrist. She’s there with several of her new friends. It’s their first day of fellowship training.

She’s at the salon. The artists at Hollywood Stars Tattoo in Los Angeles have inked this logo on many members before.

“They bring a great energy in here,” Kana Burns, a manager and tattoo artist, told me. “A lot of people don’t realize this, but tattoo artists are often nervous when giving a tattoo. It’s permanent art you’re putting on someone else’s body.”

“These guys put us at ease though,” he added.

Who are these guys? They’re a band of hoodie-clad, chiseled, tattooed brothers (and sisters) with a powerful sense of duty to help people who are in trouble.

They’re a cult. But without the SoulCycle membership. No, they’re a cult of protagonists who are putting a penchant for order and methodology to use in disaster areas.

They’re an early-stage, 120-hour-a-week tech startup with an impending IPO. But on steroids.

They’re a bunch of people who have struggled intensely to find themselves and make meaning of a world that’s downright inscrutable, especially for military veterans who have likely seen far more devastation than most people can muster.

They’re Team Rubicon. They’re badasses. And the founder, Jake Wood, has cultivated an incredible team of 30,000 loyalists across the world, a following as fervent as Nike’s, who put their lives on the line to fly to Nepal and Texas to dig people, things, memories out of rubble and put the pieces back together.

Wood impulsively volunteered in Haiti with a few buddies from the Marines after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged the nation in 2010. Wood, who had left the Marine Corps a few months before, treated countless victims, often at camps deemed too dangerous for other aid organizations to access.

While in Haiti, Wood and his friend Will McNulty decided they’d build a small network of 300 or so veterans and doctors.

So when they got back to the States, they formalized the group as a nonprofit. Today, the vast majority of TR members are volunteer former military, with the skills a first responder needs in an areas like Nepal after an earthquake or Texas after flooding. Team Rubicon also has a handful of full-time, paid staff members who work out of the organization’s Los Angeles office.

What keeps Wood going? The memory of a friend, Clay Hunt, who turned a gun on himself in 2011. Hunt struggled intensely after deploying to *** and Afghanistan but found a renewed sense of purpose in Team Rubicon.

Hunt really wanted Team Rubicon to be his full-time job after he left the military, but his skill set didn’t fit what the nonprofit needed at the time.

To commemorate his best friend, Wood created a highly selective fellows program to give “other Clays” the opportunity to cultivate the skills they need to become staff members, he says.

But who is Clay Hunt, exactly? He’s a tattoo on a stranger’s wrist. A shoulder. A calf. An intangible force that bonds nine people who never knew him. A larger-than-life figure who thousands have thought of before diving into the wreck.

“I feel a sense of loss for someone I never knew,” Pam Gieselman, a Clay Hunt fellow, said. “It’s such a strange thing to explain to someone who’s not part of the organization, but he’s at the forefront of our minds without us even knowing him.”

On the first day of the Clay Hunt fellow training, the nine fellows are taking Myers-Briggs personality tests to get to know themselves and playing basketball to get to know each other. I’m trying to get to know Clay Hunt, but it’s impalpable. Wood is the only one at the training who knew him personally. And he won’t say very much about Hunt.

“It’s almost a big joke,” Wood says when the cameras are off, describing his friend’s “sheepish personality that drove women crazy.” The good-looking kid who got him in trouble in Ranger school. The “lady killer” who Wood can talk about for hours if he has a few drinks.

He’s the guy who would have gotten a kick out of the fact that people have tattoos for him and wear shirts in his honor. Because at his core, Hunt was a humble, good guy “who just wanted to help people,” Woods says. “But he’s become almost mythical.”

Hunt had ink like the other fellows do. The famous Oscar Wilde quote “Not all who wander are lost.”

Hunt represents the invisible wounds of war — the feelings of isolation, purposelessness and sheer trauma — that enshroud a veteran coming home after nine long months overseas. The night sweats and violent nightmares of another green-on-blue attack. The embraces from family and friends that feel foreign. The fireworks and thunder that sound like gunshots. The war that never really leaves someone who has served.

“None of us knew Clay, but we all know Clay,” says Michael Davidson, a training and programs coordinator at Team Rubicon.

Hunt represents what “the tough guys” don’t talk about. He represents what the military has struggled to address, with a consistent suicide rate of roughly 300 a year.

But Wood is trying to change that. He pushed a suicide prevention bill, The Clay Hunt Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in February. The act calls for third-party evaluations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental health care and suicide prevention programs and more collaboration between the VA and nonprofit mental health organizations. It also provides resources for struggling veterans.

“I never would have imagined that moment to come,” Wood says, calling the moment it was signed into law “surreal.”

An organization, especially one like Team Rubicon, is the sum of its parts. To understand TR in its entirety, we need to dig into the people who continue suiting up, in spite of what they’ve already experienced.

Pam Gieselman

“I will forever be a Clay Hunt fellow,” Gieselman says with self-assured conviction, staring directly into a camera lens. Moments before she was joking with our video guys about looking fat on camera, nervous as anyone who takes a seat beneath the white lights.

Gieselman grew up thinking she was stupid. School was difficult. She couldn’t figure out what she was good at.

But seeing raw footage of the first Gulf War on the news when she was 5 years old had a significant effect on her. She wanted to help.

So when she turned 17, Gieselman enlisted in the military, serving as an intelligence analyst. She never deployed, though, and as a result felt like she hadn’t given as much as other soldiers had. When she left the military after six years, she didn’t feel like a veteran, and she didn’t feel like a civilian.

“I couldn’t see outside of myself,” she says. “I needed to start something new.”

Then one day, while perusing celebrity gossip on People.com as she had so many days before, Gieselman came across a profile on Team Rubicon and their work. The organization immediately piqued her interest.

Little did she know, on that day, she found her family and a new sense of purpose.

Gieselman has deployed with TR five times, most recently to Marseilles, Illinois, in June when there was flooding.

“Team Rubicon takes all the best stuff about being in the military and throws away all the ***,” she says of her peers’ spirit of service and the organization’s lack of bureaucracy. “Veterans stick together, no matter where or when you served, but Team Rubicon are like veterans on crack.”