From The Field

Randy René: Greyshirt, Coach, Force Multiplier

A Team Rubicon volunteer talks about serving at the Navajo Nation and his role on the Field Leadership Team.

The first thing you notice about Randy René is an earnest humility that is perhaps not uncommon in those who have dedicated their lives to service. Quick with a self-deprecating joke, and even quicker to praise others, René prefers to let his accomplishments speak for themselves. René is a coach on the Field Leadership Team—the body within Team Rubicon responsible for executing incident management and overseeing operational procedures. As a coach, he trains volunteer leaders to use the data analysis tools that help Team Rubicon marshal resources to the people most in need during a disaster. His path to leadership was neither smooth nor straight, but the challenges he has faced have made him the Greyshirt he is today.

René had a tough childhood and would have dropped out of high school had it not been for an influential athletic coach who provided much needed attention and guidance. That early encounter with mentorship would make a lasting impression. After graduating, René served four years in the U.S. Army. Upon returning to civilian life, he volunteered as a reserve police officer and worked for a telecommunications company using GIS tools and the mapping and spatial analytics software ESRI. Yet, while he was enjoying personal success, René felt something meaningful was missing, and he often found himself asking, “What am I working so damn hard for?” That was until a fellow veteran recommended Team Rubicon.   

René first deployed with Team Rubicon in 2018 on Operation Silver Sun in response to Hurricane Florence. Little did he know when he stepped foot in New Bern, NC that he had reached a major turning point. Prior to deploying, René had noticed a request that anyone with GIS or data analysis skills stop by the command & general staff trailer. So, after a day of mucking out houses, that’s exactly what he did. Soon he was put to work dispatching jobs to field teams, accounting for the time Greyshirt teams spent in the field, and entering volumetric data to measure the impact Team Rubicon’s work was having on the local community. Members of the Field Leadership Team noticed the value René was adding to the operation, and within months he had been recruited to serve as a tech specialist coach. 

As a tech specialist coach René provides one-on-one training for volunteer leaders, educating them on how to use Team Rubicon’s Palantir platform to process damage assessments and work orders, then turn that data into sharable metrics and reports. The skills he passes on are critical for tracking the time, resources, and services rendered on an operation, and play an important part in making sure that communities affected by disaster receive their full reimbursement from the government. In effect, René is a force multiplier, empowering volunteer leaders to make the most of their service.

Members of the Field Leadership Team may also be asked to step into incident command general staff roles on an operation when volunteer leaders are unavailable. Which is exactly what happened early this summer when René was called to serve as liaison and logistics section chief on Team Rubicon’s COVID-19 medical mission at the Navajo Nation which was experiencing the highest per-capita infection rates in the U.S. It proved to be the most difficult task of René’s career, requiring him to not only coordinate operations with multiple governing agencies in an infrastructure-poor environment, but to also tactfully navigate the Navajo people’s cultural practices and traditions. For example, the Navajo, René was told, perceive illness as both a physical and a spiritual condition. To treat the Navajo people properly, Team Rubicon medical personnel would have to learn to explain COVID-19 treatment on those terms. 

In just more than three months, the medical team in Kayenta, assisted by René, succeeded in treating more than 3,000 patients. Like how he helped compile and utilize data on Operation Silver Sun, René has helped compile lessons from the Navajo Nation that will assist Team Rubicon with future work in Native American communities. 

The role of Field Leadership Team coach demands experience, patience, and around-the-clock dedication, but for René, it has provided the missing piece. “There’s hard work and there’s heart work,” says René. “Team Rubicon offers the opportunity to do both, and that’s what it’s all about.” 

Through his service with Team Rubicon, Rene has come full circle, and is paying forward the guidance and mentorship provided by a coach in his own life. His advice to all Greyshirts is solid: “You don’t need to be in a leadership role to lead. All you have to do is help others to do their best each day and support them.”