BTU #211 - Running the Bulls, Creating a Documentary, and Team Rubicon (Dennis Clancey)

We have so many veterans leaving active duty that still want some way to engage and serve. Team Rubicon can provide that. On a homeowner’s worst day, we can get veterans in front of that homeowner and help rebuild
— Dennis Clancey

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Why Listen:
Dennis is a renaissance man. He started his career at Amazon, before transitioning to one of the nation’s pre-eminent nonprofits, Team Rubicon. Along with that, he has done the running of the bulls over 80 times over the last 12 years, and directed a documentary about his experience. Team Rubicon is an organization that should be on every Veterans radar. They unite the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. This meets a need for purpose, connection, contribution and excitement that many guests on my show have expressed they missed after their military service.

About Dennis:
Dennis Clancey is the Deputy Director of Field Operations for Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. He started out at West Point, after which he served in the Army for over six years earning a Bronze Star for combat leadership. Since his military service, he has worked at Amazon as an Operations Manager, and as the Director of the documentary, Chasing Red.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining us from Dallas, Texas is Dennis Clancey. Dennis is the Deputy Director of Field Operations for Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. He started out at West Point, after which he served in the Army for over six years earning a Bronze Star for combat leadership. Since his military service, he has worked at Amazon as an Operations Manager, and as the Director of the documentary, Chasing Red.


What was your first job search like out of the military?

My father was in the military as well so it was really all I had known my whole life. My impression of finding my first job was that there were a lot of recruiters out there that were looking to make money from putting you into a job. Which is true but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The thing that I learned was that I needed to be patient and stepping into my first job after the military to be something I was passionate about.

I didn’t really have a plan but luckily my parents let me move in with them which gave me time to think over my options.


Was Amazon the first job you had out of the military?

Yes it was. I left the military in July 2010 and joined Amazon about four months later. I believe it was through a recruiter. There was a really good military recruiter at Amazon at the time and he sold me on taking the job.


Could you share more about your mission at Team Rubicon?

In my role, I oversee all of Team Rubicon’s disaster operations. We respond domestically and internationally. We were founded about eight years ago. A couple of transitioning veterans saw everything that was going on with the earthquake in Haiti and wanted to do something about it. So they went there and helped communities rebuild.

The majority of the work we do is here in the United States. Last year we had Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. And this year we’re right in the middle of hurricane season. We have so many veterans leaving active duty that still want some way to engage and serve. Team Rubicon can provide that. On a homeowner’s worst day, we can get veterans in front of that homeowner and help rebuild.

I think we’re driving a different veteran than you frequently hear. There are so many veterans that come out of the military with great skills and they’re craving an outlet to put those skills to work. Veterans deal with chaotic situations all over the world so we want to make sure we’re leveraging these talents. Veterans aren’t always in a place where they need help but they do want an outlet to contribute their skills.


How can veterans get involved in Team Rubicon?

It’s really quick to go on our website and sign up. I should also say that we’re not 100% veterans. We’re about 25% “kick ass civilians”. There are people from all walks of life that bring great skills to the tables. So literally anyone can raise their hand and join Team Rubicon.

Once you sign up, you’ll go through a background check and culture training. You’ll also take basic Incident Command System training. This makes us easy to integrate into command structures during disasters. The initial ICS training will take a few hours to complete and can all be done online.

Once that’s all completed, you’re eligible to deploy to a disaster. If a disaster happens within 400 miles of you, we’ll allow you to drive and will pay for your gas to get to and from the disaster location. We also cover lodging and meals.

For people that want to get more specialized training, we have various training programs for them. This training is done all over the United States. We have contractors that drive a trailer with our equipment all over the country to train people.

When our members sign up for a response, we can work with you depending on your schedules and what days you can commit to the response.


How many people have signed up for this and are in your database?

There are 80,000 people signed up which is pretty phenomenal considering we’ve only been around for 8 years.


How did you end up at Team Rubicon after Amazon?

One year I was at the running of the bulls in Spain and one of the guys that was staying with me later deployed with Team Rubicon to Typhoon, Haiyan. So I learned about Team Rubicon through Facebook. When I was at Amazon, it was really my life. I didn’t have time to volunteer. But after I left Amazon, I signed up with Team Rubicon and ended up getting deployed to the Nepal Earthquake. I helped out with logistics and loved it. So I never turned back after that.


What does a typical day look like for you?

I lead our national operations center here in Dallas. We chose this location because of its central location. We have about 25 employees here. It’s a mix of logistics, finance, public affairs, and planning. This is kind of the nerve center for the organization. We want to make sure we have good situational awareness of current and developing disasters. We also hold a number of planning calls. We synch up with people that are deployed and what the plan is for them. It’s making sure everyone is on the same page.

We have Deputy Directors that lead each of six regions within the United States. These Directors are responsible for making sure that there are people in their region that are ready to respond quickly to any event.


Is your schedule unpredictable?

It’s very irregular and is based around disasters. Every time we go to a disaster, I know the impact that we’re having. We’re great at tracking the economic and community impact we’re having. So it’s a lot of late nights and early mornings but it’s rewarding knowing that what we’re doing is making a difference.


Could you speak a little bit more about working for a non-profit?

One of the things that set me up for success was that I had a very good financial footing coming out of Amazon. Going from the military directly into a non-profit can be tricky. There’s a lot of people that do it, do it well and it can be very rewarding. There are lot of opportunities out there but there’s definitely a different trajectory in terms of salary. I don’t get paid as much as I did in former roles. So it was good that I was in a place where I could make a sound decision. It was more about something I was passionate about.

I don’t see myself leaving Team Rubicon anytime soon but it does become a little bit tricky when thinking about where I would fit going back into the corporate world.

For any savvy, forward thinking company, they will care more about the impact you had on the company rather than a specific title.


You’ve founded a travel and documentary company. Can you talk more about that?

It started at West Point. West Point is about an hour north of New York City. Because it’s often so miserable to be at, you  need some sort of release. But you don’t have that much time that you’re away.

I started a club when I was there that we jokingly called the Extreme Vacation Club. We would just find the cheapest flight into Europe on any given weekend and we would have a list of things we needed to accomplish while we were there.  That really drove a passion for me of traveling.

I wanted to be able to capture my traveling. It doesn’t matter how many places you’ve been but rather what you’ve gotten out of those experience. So Marge and Fade was an opportunity to film my experiences and communicate this to an audience.

The first project I took on doing this was the running of the bulls. It’s an interesting topic that can be difficult to understand.


Can you talk to us more about your experience running with the bulls?

I deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006. I came back from that experience feeling empowered. In terms of personal development and ways in which I was challenged, it was a good experience for me. So I decided I wanted to do the running of the bulls. It’s about a half mile route. You don’t even sign up, you pretty much just show up. The bulls run a four minute mile through 3,000 people. The panic that you see in people that are running for the first time can be very overwhelming. In 2007, I committed myself to run with the bulls. So now I’ve done it about 80 times over the past 12 years.

Being a young officer in the Army, I needed to have a plan for my guys if things were going wrong. So with the running of the bulls, I’ve carved out a bit of a personality for myself to help people that are running it for the first time. I have clients every summer. This summer I had over 100 clients. Before the run, I take them through the route and give them advice about how to successfully complete this.


What advice would you give to someone that wants to run with the bulls?

I have a video on YouTube. It gives you a basic understanding of the run as well as the Do’s and Do Not’s.


What was it like creating your documentary?

It was a labor of love. It took me a number of years to make it - from 2007-2015. I had no background in film. I had a very rewarding but also demanding career at Amazon. So I only had a little bit of time here and there to devote to making the video. I started a Kickstarter which provided me with $23,000 to support making the film. I had some friends in the town that had access to cameramen and I had a couple of my own. The tough thing about shooting in these alleyways is that each camera only has a few seconds to catch the bulls during the run. A lot of people really believed in me more than I believed in myself sometimes.

Not trying to do it overnight helped me. I understood that I had no background in film so I gave myself the time to learn those things and build a team that was able to fill the gaps where I didn't have experience.

When I look at the amount of credit I can give myself, it really pales in comparison to the generosity of people around me that sacrificed a lot to help my dream come true.


Can you tell us more about your work as Vice President on the Board of Directors with the Education for Peace in Iraq Center?

I’ve been in this role for the last six months. I’m at at point in my career where I want to pitch in my efforts with some different community spaces. My experience in Iraq was very formative for me. In every conflict, you have people that are agitators and then you have the vast majority of people that are trying to create degree of normalcy for their families. I still have a lot of relationships with people I met during my time there.

The organization puts out a monitoring report of everything going on in Iraq on a weekly basis. They also partner with a number of programs to increase safety and normalcy in Iraqi communities. I’m still figuring out how I can help form the future of the organization. Recently, we’ve been looking to hire a Communications and Development Coordinator so I’ve been helping with that.

It helps me maintain a connection to my past and helps me feel like I”m able to give back to these communities that gave me so much during my time there.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

There was a chapter of my life between Amazon and Team Rubicon where I started a company and did that for about six months. Sometimes you have to take risks. Within that six month period, I learned so much. There are three branches of jobs - public service, large corporations, and startups. So starting my company helped me feel like I was away from any big system and I had to figure things out for myself. So I’ve been grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had.