Mentoring with Modesty

Jonah Thompson

Why do members lean on Navy veteran Jim Flory when it comes to guidance and counsel?

Whenever we find ourselves in an unfamiliar situation or environment, we often gravitate to those who exude knowledge, confidence, and approachability. Whether its tackling a difficult work order, dealing with interpersonal conflicts, or navigating a career path, volunteers on Operation Seymour Action gravitated to one person in particular for counsel, Region 5’s Jim Flory.


Jim Flory (center) serves on the Incident Management Team with TR, mentoring future leaders of the organization during response operations.

Jim enlisted in the Navy right out of high school. He found himself on a ship in the Persian Gulf, assigned to the role of fireman. While not quite the position he had originally envisioned for himself (he aspired to be a nuclear machinist), the Navy had unknowingly led him to a job that would become his life’s work. Fire suppression and damage control became his passion. Once he completed his military service, he cold-called every fire department within range of his hometown in Illinois, and served 29 years with the fire department that took a chance on a young man with a dream, retiring with the designation of Lieutenant.

“Whether its military service, fire service, or volunteerism – we all want to be part of an something that is bigger than the sum of us,” says Jim.

During his time with the fire department, he deployed to New Orleans, Louisiana, to augment fire department operations in the city after Hurricane Katrina. The morning briefs, which included a review of the day’s Incident Action Plan, immediately captivated his interest. He learned and absorbed all that he could about emergency management throughout his career. While sorting though his retirement paperwork, he came across the stack of training certificates, feeling a sense of regret for not putting the education and training into practice for broader disaster response operations. Only two weeks into retirement, he began to feel a void, and realized his call to service was stronger than ever.

Jim's first operation with TR was Op Ugly Water in Missouri in the wake of severe flooding.

Jim’s first operation with TR was Op Ugly Water in Missouri in the wake of severe flooding.

Jim heeded the advice of a good friend and joined Team Rubicon for Operation Ugly Water in Missouri, serving in the capacity of Operations Section Chief, and has been part of TR ever since. In addition to serving as Operations Section Chief and Planning Section Chief, Jim’s primary role is to prepare a cadre of skilled members to assume these leadership roles. “When training a new mentee for a leadership position, I tell them to remember one thing: you need the Greyshirts a lot more than they need you. If they don’t show up, there’s nothing you can do; but if you don’t show up, they’ll be just fine.” He is Greyshirt-focused and mission-oriented, and recognizes the importance of empowering his mentees.

“What makes Jim such a good leader is the fact that he listens and provides feedback in a way that helps you grow and learn,” says mentee Ashley Slover. “He is never condescending and always makes you feel comfortable to ask questions. I’ve learned so much from him and continue to learn from him.”

Jim alongside mentees Kevin Hough and Amanda "Andie" Reed in North Carolina.

Jim alongside mentees Kevin Hough and Amanda “Andie” Reed in North Carolina.

As a leader, Jim also realizes that all of the members under his watch battle their own set of demons. His training and guidance extends beyond the nuances of the Incident Command Structure and Incident Action Plan development, to promote empathy and compassion amongst the team. He understands the sanctity of the community that Team Rubicon provides, and encourages those around him to approach the fellow member who may appear reserved or might be sitting alone. “For many volunteers, this is a place to heal. Hear their story. Listen for 15 minutes and then pass judgment. We often pigeon-hole people based on surface-level impressions only to find out we know nothing at all about them.”

Jim speaks with immense respect for the Greyshirts, particularly their humility. “Pay attention to the stories that Team Rubicon volunteers tell, especially when discussing bravery, work ethic, or dedication. Whenever they tell stories, the stories are always about someone else. They are humble enough to recognize the greatness that surrounds them.”

On his final day at Operation Seymour Action, Jim appeared genuinely surprised and confused by the number of members who ask to be deployed with him again on a future operation. His own humility has made him unaware of the impact he’s made on those around him, including Incident Commander KC Baney. “I have had the privilege of working with Jim quite often, and every single time is a true pleasure. He’s been a sounding board, a trusted confidant, and more importantly a friend. It is an honor to work alongside him.”

Read More Stories