Tom Deierlein on his TD Foundation’s Expanding Impact

TJD Headshot 20101 Tom Deierlein is Co-Founder ad CEO of ThunderCat technology a Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business that delivers technology services and solutions to the federal government and fortune 500 companies. Tom served in the U.S. military in Iraq, in 2005, and as a result of his experiences there, started the Tom Deierlein Foundation in 2006, with the goal of helping those affected by the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Makegood recently spoke with Tom about his foundation’s newly expanded mission.

The Makegood: Your Tom Deierlein Foudation recently expanded its mission to provide aid to the children of Wounded Warriors and Fallen Heroes in the U.S. what will that look like, logistically, and an you explain the reasons behind the expansion? 

Just as in the past where TDF established a network of partners and other non-profits and charities with similar missions (http://tdfoundation.org/partners/), we will do the same with the new mission seeking out other smaller, grassroots organizations where TDF can have a real impact, one child, one family and one community at a time.  We will also partner with US Military directly when appropriate.

Our Initial partners include Our Military Kids, Green Beret Foundation, and The Station Foundation.  We will rely on them to do most of the vetting and qualification of the actual need.  There are many organizations out there now that help Gold Star families and those of wounded warriors.  We will look to find where there are gaps or frustration.  We take pride in minimal bureaucracy and getting aid to people in need fast without a lot of red tape We have been discussing expanding the mission for the past few years, actually.  We were excited and proud of the work we were doing overseas by those needy children impacted by war and living under horrible conditions.

But, being a wounded warrior myself and working with USSOCOM Care Coalition and Wounded Warrior as a peer mentor, I could see there were still gaps and still people struggling to find the right organization to help.  Just a few years back I paid the utilities and mortgage on a home in California because the recently retired solider was in a full time treatment facility for PTSD and his wife had left work to care for him.  There wasn’t a group they could turn to officially.  There was no income for 6 months.  This is just a small story and one example.  Unfortunately there are tens of thousands of these stories out there.  We simply want to insert ourselves and our network of friends to help find these folks and take care of them. Period.  The good news is that Americans want to help our Vets and their families. They just want to know that the money is going to the recipients and making a difference.  I mentioned there are already many organizations already out there – but also know that we haven’t solved the problem 100% and we look forward to being part of the solution for many families in the years to come.  When we started, we knew we would start with a focus on Iraq and Afghan children and look to others eventually. With the combat operations winding down in Afghanistan as they already have in Iraq – it was simply time to bring the mission home.  We look forward to continuing to serve children in those countries but also here in the US now as well.

The Makegood: Your foundation has already done a lot for those affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have gotten a lot of support from your peers, can you explain how and why the industry has rallied behind this cause?

Not really. I am humbled and amazed by the support we have gotten.  I think at the time we got started, it had a lot to do with the original founders and their passion and support for the cause.  At the time I was called up to serve in Nov 2005, it came as a shock to me and many in the digital media industry where I had been working since 1996.  I had left the service 12 years earlier.  I think that led to many people paying attention to my journey.  When I arrived, I knew I needed to help those living on the ghetto of Sadr City.  So I reached out to some friends on the Old Timers List and the boxes and shipments starting rolling in – humanitarian aid efforts began.

Once I was shot by the sniper in Sept 2006 – it was another chance for people to see how real the war was.  We already had a fundraiser scheduled at the Forbes Gallery in Oct during my planned leave time.  People wanted to do something – but weren’t sure how.  We gave them the “how”.  People for or against the wars still supported the military and still understood that innocent children were suffering.  Because it was started and run by a bunch of folks from digital media – it became “our cause”.  Something tangible and real – and easy to see that we were having impact and saving lives.  Overall, we are a compassionate and giving group of people in our industry.  We should all feel proud to have come together collectively to move this Foundation forward since 2006.Today we are rapidly approaching $1 Million raised since 2006 with a ton more in donations like books, clothes, toys, athletic equipment, travel, vitamins, medical supplies, and medical services.

The Makegood: This cause is one close to your heart. Can you talk about the founding of TDF, how did it blossom from an idea into what it is today?

I was called up in late 2005.  After 5 months of specialized training JFK Special Warfare School at Ft Bragg I deployed to Baghdad as the Civil Affairs Officer for Sadr City. I was not kicking down doors and chasing bad guys.  Instead I was assigned to a branch of Special Operations known as Civil Affairs – as the name says we focus on civilians (non-combatants).   Civil affairs officers act as a liaison between the Army and civilian authorities and populations. I saw the terrible conditions in Sadr City, a slum of 2.3 million people in East Baghdad, Iraq. The Army and US government were focused on helping the newly formed government and re-building the infrastructure and economy. But in my area of operation there was still a huge need to fill the gap with HA (Humanitarian Aid). The goal was to help children affected in war-torn East Baghdad with basic life needs from shoes and clothes to school supplies and vitamins.  Since the big Army had moved on from a mission standpoint I often had difficulties getting supplies for Humanitarian Aid. At the same time, people were emailing me and asking what they could send me.  The light went on – I didn’t need anything – so instead asked them to send me stuff for the kids.  I sent a note out on the Old timers email list (10,000+ strong at the time) and TD Foundation was born.

After I got shot and was recovering in the hospital Sean Finnegan, Paul Bremer and Bill Flatley set up a fundraiser to continue the efforts. Dave Morgan, Doug Weaver and Rick Parkhill quickly jumped on board and we moved forward to become an official 501 (c) (3). Even while I was in the hospital in Fall 2006, we were getting our first child Abdullah out to Michigan for reconstruction.  His leg was shattered by an errant RPG. http://tdfoundation.org/abdullah-surgery-to-repair-hip-destroyed-by-rpg-april-2007/.  Our second fundraiser was at iMedia the following May when I got out of the hospital.   It took off from there and became the adopted cause of the digital media industry.

The Makegood: What were some of the challenges that you have faced during this foundation’s existence?

The main challenges we faced were logistics.  Shipping goods overseas is VERY expensive and has size and weight limitations.  Plus, if we didn’t ship to an APO (Army Post Office) there was really no postage system in place to speak of to send to Iraqis or Afghans directly.  For example, we wanted to ship 25 wheel chairs to an orphanage of disabled children. After looking at various options – we simply couldn’t pull it off.  Even sending them one at a time  – the boxes and weight were too much.  Then once we figured out a way to ship at least smaller things the drawdown started and access to military post offices was more and more restricted.

On the medical front the challenges were more intense and time sensitive. There was a mass exodus of the middle class after the war broke out – this included medical personnel and doctors.  So first getting an accurate diagnosis and proper medical documentation was tough.  Then you had to get passports and visas.  Nearly impossible to get a Dad to travel and the father didn’t want the mother gone – so usually a grandmother or aunt would accompany our patients to the West for surgery. Sometimes the father would be stubborn and only want the child to travel if with him.  This happened a few times and costs valuable days and weeks. It was always a team effort and lot’s of different people and organizations had to come together for each and every child.  Each with a role and specialty.  Obviously we needed doctors and nurses and hospitals.  But someone that knew the visa process, someone to arrange flights, another to arrange local housing for 30-45 days.  Just like a good ad campaign, client account team, media, creative, ad ops, research all bringing something to the table. We like to highlight the 50 lives we have saved – but we lost 4 over the past 6 years as well. One awaiting a bone marrow match, one en route to LA Children’s Hospital and two others during surgery.  That is always hard news to get.

The Makegood: Do you see any other expansions of TDF’s services in the future?

We get requests all the time from partners and other organizations that cover international.  Right now our focus is children impacted by war.  Keep in mind we are still a very small, grassroots organization with limited resources and no full time or paid staff.  It will be at least a year until we learn more about the needs of our new recipients and the right people to partner with long term in this area. So, no plans for expansion in the next say 2-3 years.

The Makegood: Thank you, Tom

  • Tom Kelly

    Congrats, TD. Looking forward to TD Foundation annual cocktail party in December.