The Disaster Artist Dennis Clancey ’00 has fought in Iraq’s Triangle of Death, managed earthquake relief, and run with the bulls of Pamplona. In danger, he says, lies purpose.

Late on the night of September 2, Dennis Clancey ’00 sits buckled into his window seat on a JetBlue flight from New York to Nassau in the Bahamas. As he stares into the twinkling runway lights on the JFK tarmac, a feeling of uneasiness fills the cabin and reaches the cockpit. Yesterday Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas, and earlier today heavy crosswinds forced a Nassau-bound flight from Atlanta to turn back. A few minutes before takeoff, the pilot emerges to tell passengers he’s confident in the flight path and the aircraft; he believes he can steer around the storm.

Clancey needs no such reassurance. He’s a U.S. Army veteran and a top executive with Team Rubicon, a relief organization that mobilizes veterans and first responders in the wake of humanitarian crises. Flying head on into a disaster makes him feel alive.

You could say Clancey is continually in flight. He has traveled to more than 100 countries, holds three passports, and has never lived anywhere long. He’s only 37 years old, but he has already led an Army platoon in war-torn Iraq. Roamed the globe as a troubleshooter for Amazon. Run with the bulls of Pamplona, Spain, so many times that he’s now considered an expert. And founded a travel filmmaking company.

Is he an adrenaline junkie? “I don’t think I have an addictive personality,” Clancey says. “I don’t do drugs. I don’t really drink. I’m more interested in figuring out the essence or the zen of something.”

In short, Clancey doesn’t seek risk for risk’s sake. Adrenaline without purpose, he says, is a waste. He thrills at opportunities to master chaotic situations in service of something meaningful. And such mastery, he knows, comes only from deep understanding.

“I always knew my purpose; I think lots of us do. But life has a tendency of getting in the way.”

Clancey (fourth from right) joined Team Rubicon as a volunteer doing relief work in Nepal following its 2015 earthquake.

Clancey himself is a jumble of contradictions. He’s an evocative storyteller — witness his filmmaking — but also a pragmatic logistician who brought order to Amazon’s busy holiday season. He seems to like rules — he chose West Point and the military — but he also likes breaking them.

At Team Rubicon, an organization that thrives on military-style discipline, Clancey is officially the “disruptor in residence,” with duties that include finding new ways to tell the group’s story. Founded by former Marines just a decade ago, it has already responded to more than 400 disasters and boasts a volunteer force of 100,000. (Put in perspective, the 139-year-old American Red Cross has around 500,000 volunteers.) Rubicon’s rapid growth, as well as the eagerness of its volunteers and philanthropic supporters, is remarkable. “Our purpose is to provide services in the wake of humanitarian crises or disasters. And we happen to believe that veterans are the best tool to do that,” says Clancey. “I think this indirectly makes us a really powerful veteran service organization because we’re projecting a positive image of what the veteran is.”

Clancey first deployed with Team Rubicon as a volunteer in 2015, after a massive earthquake rocked Nepal. Clancey led medical teams into villages cut off by landslides.

“I was just in heaven,” Clancey says sincerely but gingerly, aware it could sound callous.“I don’t want to make light of the fact that it was a disaster. But to be in the mountains, doing everything I could do to help, and feeling like I was doing it well — that was an amazing experience.”

A few months after volunteering in Nepal, Clancey joined the Team Rubicon staff overseeing operations and establishing a national operations center in Grand Prairie, Texas.

“People often ask me if Team Rubicon helped me find purpose,” Clancey wrote in a blog post for the outdoor retail brand The North Face and its “Never Stop Exploring” campaign. “I think I always knew my purpose; I think lots of us do. Our conscience constantly reminds us, but life has a tendency of getting in the way.”

At EHS, Clancey was influenced by a class on transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau.

Clancey (left, again in Nepal) ran Team Rubicon field operations for four years.

Clancey’s training for a lifetime of disruption and global adventure began at an early age. His parents’ heritage gave him Irish and Italian citizenship. His father was an active-duty Marine, which meant frequent relocations and new assignments. But as the family bounced from base to base, his parents somehow made the nomadic lifestyle into a magical adventure, instilling a love of travel, exploration, and new experiences. He remembers poring over guidebooks with his mom and older brother as they prepared to move to Okinawa, Japan, where Clancey would spend his first two years of high school. While living in Japan, the family seized the opportunity to travel throughout Asia and Australia, each stop a new puzzle to solve. “Growing up with parents who were really encouraging and optimistic, and who gave me opportunities to experience the world and explore, made me believe that I could be successful wherever I went,” he says.

Episcopal was Clancey’s first adventure to a new place and culture without his family. He says he was heavily influenced by a class on American transcendentalist thinkers like Emerson and Thoreau — “people who questioned the way things were but still believed that underneath everything there were some great, positive forces at work.”

Enrolling at West Point, Clancey deliberately chose rules and austerity over the more traditional freewheeling college experience. He welcomed the challenge of a rigid structure. While others bemoaned a constrictive schedule with brief weekends of freedom, Clancey saw opportunity. “I started this thing called the Extreme Vacationing Club,” he says. “If you get a direct flight on a Friday night at 7 p.m. out of JFK to Europe, you can sleep the whole flight, touch down, and hit the ground running.” So Clancey led his fellow cadets on weekend scavenger hunts throughout Europe. “We had a punch list of different things we wanted to accomplish in that time — like starting a party or covering a certain amount of ground.”

By age 23, Clancey was an officer in the 101st Airborne Division leading a platoon in Iraq’s infamous Triangle of Death, southwest of Baghdad. Clancey was awarded a Bronze Star for combat leadership and learned that extreme pressure brought out the best in him. “When things get chaotic and dangerous and difficult, there’s a part of me — I discovered — that switches on.”

His next project: a television show focused on exotic travel hotspots.

After six years of active-duty military service, Clancey joined Amazon, where he would hopscotch around the world, settling briefly in countries such as Canada and Germany to streamline operations and ensure efficiency during even the busiest times of year. “There’s an aspect of Amazon peak season that’s a bit like deployment,” Clancey says. “You’ve got to make sure the rest of your life is squared away. You’re working endless hours, you don’t have a ton of energy. You have to figure out how to create positive moments in times like that when everyone’s working hard toward something.”

Amid all this, Clancey has run with the bulls for what will soon be 14 years consecutively. In total, he has run the cobblestone streets of Pamplona, Spain, more than 60 times. Pursued by bulls yet in pursuit of the deeper meaning of the sport.

“In the moments before they come, I dream,” Clancey writes in “The Bulls of Pamplona,” a bull-running guidebook he co-authored. “Euphoria tickles the nape of my soul.”

Running with the bulls is risky, and “running on the horns,” as Clancey does, is by far the riskiest approach. It means running directly in front of a charging 1,200-pound animal, inches from impalement. By the grace of God, the bulls have never gotten him. But in “Chasing Red,” his award-winning documentary about the annual event, Clancey got right to the center of his own heart.

“It’s this common misperception the bull’s chasing after the red in the cape,” Clancey says in the film. “It’s not. It’s chasing after that movement. […] The matador always keeps that cape just beyond the bull’s reach. And there are people that go after things that are beyond their reach. In that experience and in that quest, they find value in their own lives.”

Clancey, who has run with the bulls of Pamplona more than 60 times, produced and directed the documentary “Chasing Red” about the event.

*Editor's update: As of May 1, volunteers from Team Rubicon, where Dennis Clancey '00 is "disruptor in residence," were responding to the Covid-19 crisis in 30 states and the District of Columbia. The group has delivered laptops to public school children in Peoria, Ill.; staffed a field hospital in Santa Clara, Calif.; set up a mobile testing site in Charlotte, N.C.; assembled food kits for low-income residents of Westchester County, N.Y.; and otherwise assisted local, state, and federal partners in the fight to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.