This month we’ll have the pleasure of sharing with you the stories of five members of our GovDataDownload community who have served their country. This week meet Tom Deierlein, President and CEO of ThunderCat Technology, a trusted NetApp partner in the delivery of data management solutions to public sector customers. Tom’s life has been spent moving between military and civilian environments and he shares how each has shaped his perspectives and the lessons he’s taken away. In addition to his leadership of ThunderCat Technology, Tom co-founded the TD Foundation which provides aid to children of wounded warriors and fallen heroes.
His is a fascinating story, read his story below.
GovDataDownload (GDD): Tom thanks for sitting down with us! In which branch of the armed forces did you serve?
Tom Deierlein (TD): I have served in the U.S. Army twice. The first period was from 1989-1993. I entered West Point straight out of high school as a young 17 year old and graduated in 1989. Following my graduation from West Point, I became an Infantry Officer and went to Airborne and Ranger School. It was an interesting time to be part of the Army and a particular highlight of this tour was serving in the Berlin Brigade in West Germany right after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
I decided to leave the military in 1993 and started a civilian career, but I was called back to Active Duty in 2005 and served as a Civil Affairs Officer in Baghdad in 2006. My service came to an abrupt halt in September 2006 when I was shot by a sniper. My injuries required that I spend 8 months in hospital for both recovery and rehabilitation.
GDD: Why did you choose to serve?
TD: When I was 13 years old I laid out a pretty comprehensive plan for a freshman in high school. I decided that I would go to West Point, be in the Army for 5 years and then become a successful business man.
However at the core of this plan were a lot of personal connections and motivations. As well as having a strong desire to serve my country, my family has a long history of service in the armed forces. My father was a China Marine during World War II and my sister served as a nurse in the Navy. We’re a patriotic family, but within our family there’s a strong ethos of service and my decision to start my adult life in the Army is a strong reflection of these family values.
GDD: Can you share any memorable experiences?
TD: There are so many memorable experiences that have come from my military service. While my parents and school teachers obviously deserve a lot of credit for my early development, values, and work ethic, going to West Point and then to Ranger School defined who I am as a person and a professional.
On a less lofty note, getting shot was certainly memorable and it also turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. And no, I’m not kidding you. It was a very bad injury and I was literally on death’s door. I had been given an emergency coagulant treatment, called Factor VII, to prevent me from bleeding out, and a priest had administered the last rites. Having survived the immediate trauma in the theater, I nearly died on the flight from Landsthul, Germany to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. a week later. Those two touch-and-go experiences, plus 8 months of convalescence gave me ample opportunity to reflect on who I was and think about who I wanted to be. Not that I was an ogre before I faced death, but trust me, Tom 2.0 is a much better version. I’ve become more patient, less selfish, more caring and empathetic. In my second chapter, I’m doubling down on my commitment to serve others.
The chance to reflect also led me to create the TD Foundation. The TD Foundation is a 100% volunteer organization that provides aid to children of wounded warriors and fallen heroes and its primary mission is to help Veterans’ families when they’re in crisis. Most of our work is done through grass-roots charities that align with our mission. We fill the gaps left by government programs, the VA, and other charities. It’s everything from a couple of hundred dollars for school supplies to $15,000 to cover mortgage payments and keep a family in their home while their Veteran underwent treatment for PTSD.
We’ve got a lot of success stories on the site, and while they all affect me, it’s sometimes when we do what I consider little things, like buy a family car seats, or pay for gymnastics classes that I feel we make a tremendous difference. I find it horribly sad that a Veteran had been out of work for more than a year and couldn’t afford these essential things for their family.
GDD: How has your service shaped your civilian career?
TD: Besides creating Tom 2.0, my military service has shaped my civilian career in so many ways. At a very young age I was entrusted to lead others and that has given me an advantage in civilian life. All the things you hear about why Veterans make great employees are accurate from my perspective. I learned leadership and teamwork skills, character and values, self-discipline, performing and making decisions in dynamic, rapidly changing circumstances, the importance of simply “getting it done” without excuses or exception, resiliency or grit, and of course loyalty.
GDD: What advice would you give to military personnel looking to transition to civilian life?
TD: I’d start by reminding them to never discount the value of military experience in civilian life. Often, it seems that duties we perform and the skills we acquire don’t line up with what’s expected of us in a civilian environment, but the skills actually carry over very well if you stop for a moment and reduce them to their core.
Then I’d recommend talking with other Veterans who have made the transition and reading about experiences as well. A couple years ago I curated a series of articles for Veterans transitioning into business. So, I’ll give my series on LinkedIn a little plug: you can find the stories here. I hope they give my fellow Veterans a confidence boost as you head out of the military, no matter what branch you served in.
Finally, while the transition may seem difficult, and that feeling might linger for a year, or even two, but trust me, your military service will allow you to be a top performer in short order and shine, just as you did during your military career.
Tom and the TD Foundation were featured on NBC Nightly News Making a Difference segment. Watch here: