Bob Thomas: Sometimes it takes a miracle
December 27, 2012
“Our Lord works in wondrous ways.” Two of my three sons were graduated from Carson High and University of Nevada, Reno, one in journalism and the other in computer information systems. Philip, my youngest, was a justice of the peace in Gerlach and died last year. Erik was a software architect with Intuit for seven plus years, and recently launched his own company. This is about his miraculous discovery of a lifetime career. When Erik graduated from high school he elected to attend Arizona State, the party school, where he partied and flunked his first semester. This was in the late 1970s. He then joined the regular Army and following basic at Fort Leonard Wood had extensive training as a “combat medic.” His first assignment was at Fort Rucker, Ala. At that time the combat engineering grunts at Fort Rucker were mostly people who choose the Army over prison. This was at a time when it was popular for judges to give gang bangers the option of joining the armed forces in lieu of going to prison. Bad dudes. Lots of fights. One day I found Erik standing on my front porch AWOL. He said he couldn’t take the Rucker hell hole any longer; he actually feared for his life. His commanding officer wouldn’t do anything about it nor would he give Erik an oft requested transfer. I told him that he couldn’t stay at home being AWOL, but I would arrange a meeting between him and one of then-Gov. Bob List’s staff lawyers who had been a Marine Corps advocate, and who had defended AWOL guys like Erik.The lawyer came to our house and met with Erik for three hours during which he leveled with him, convincing him that the Army might not let him out honorably. Erik had researched his situation and was convinced the Army would either let him out with a general discharge or reassign him to a new post, either one being OK. Anyway, he turned himself in at Monterey, the closest Army base to Carson City.After simmering in a holding company for some weeks he got an official hearing with the company commander. Either Erik would convince the hearing officer to let him out, or the hearing officer would convince Erik to take a new assignment and finish his three year enlistment. The officer prevailed, and Erik took a new assignment at Fort Sam Houston. He was assigned to a classroom support team who were all good guys.When Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president his first order was to freeze all federal hiring. Erik saw his chance and established a working relationship with a woman — a civilian (GS-11) — who was in charge of the Department of Defense manpower management system for keeping track of the doctors and nurses that came through Fort Sam Houston. She was transferring, and the freeze prevented the base from requisitioning her replacement.Erik got an appointment with the major in charge of the department and made a case for his taking over her job. He had taken two computer courses in high school and at UNR the summer he graduated from high school. He must have made a good sales presentation because he got the job, and took to it like flies to horses. He was assigned to running the computer that was part of the DOD manpower management system. He trained with the GS-11 lady before she left, took over her job and never looked back. He got a promotion and finished out his enlistment, being honorably discharged.So, ironically, going AWOL opened the door to Erik’s future lifetime career, thanks to his major and his assistant, who both saw something in him worth saving. Erik was in hog heaven, discovering his future life’s work and doing his final 22 months service without breaking a sweat. He then enrolled in UNR, graduating with honors and a degree in computer information systems, one of the first from UNR. His career has been rewarding in every way, and what a miraculous way to find it.• Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who later served on the Carson City School Board, the state welfare board, the airport authority and as a state assemblyman. His website is http://www.worldclassentrepreneur.com.