Leading from the battlefield to the conference room
Tom Amidon hated high school. “I wanted to be outside doing things,” he recalled. His love for surfing and the beach kept him away from classrooms to the point where he had a “second chance” to complete the 11th grade.
Later in life, Amidon realized the importance of education, went back to college at age 27, and was recognized in “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges” in 1992. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies and expanded his knowledge of the world during his 20 years in the U.S. Army.
“I endured many situations in the Army working with diverse people and cultures from Kenya to Egypt to Korea that built the strength of character and resolve that drive me to accomplish any mission,” said Amidon, director, Safeguards and Security, ORISE.
Early in his career, Amidon was a Green Beret non-commissioned officer specializing in weapons, demolitions and intelligence. Later, as an officer, he served in several military intelligence positions in support of Special Operations units. Near the close of his Army career, Amidon was an assistant professor of military science and ROTC instructor at Carson-Newman College (now Carson-Newman University). Amidon retired from the U.S. Army in 2004 as a Major, but was asked to remain at Carson-Newman ROTC as a recruiter. He built the ROTC nursing program into the largest ROTC nursing program in the country. He was a product of an ROTC program, having earned the distinction of top Army ROTC Cadet in North Carolina while attending Campbell University.
Not all of Amidon’s job experiences in military service have applied to his work at ORAU, but they all helped build him into the director he is today.
“I have jumped out of an airplane with two parachutes and landed with one, and I have jumped with two parachutes and landed with three,” Amidon said. He also completed a year-long course learning Mandarin Chinese at the Defense Language Institute. “That’s one skill I can say I don’t use here. That’s a good thing, because most of my Chinese vocabulary has been forgotten,” he said.
Amidon’s military career equipped him with management skills he uses every day at ORAU. “Coming here has been a very good match,” said Amidon, who joined ORAU in 2007.
His main tasks and responsibilities in Safeguards and Security are developing and implementing a comprehensive program to protect ORAU personnel, facilities, property, sensitive information and classified materials.
“I will do anything to protect my ORAU family, many things that employees don’t see,” said Amidon. He believes employees depend on him and his team for their physical safety and security.
He identifies problem solving as his most marketable skill, and often finds solutions by looking at facts and data, supplemented with a generous dose of honesty. “I love numbers and spreadsheets, but it’s the relationships and trust you build with people that matter the most in problem solving,” he said. An oft-repeated personal motto is “Do the right thing, no matter who or if anyone is watching.”
Directing Safeguards and Security is serious business, but Amidon injects humor and good times into his workday. “I have fun, and hopefully liven up the atmosphere,” said Amidon, reciting a second personal motto: “If you are not having fun, you need to do something else.”
He played ORAU’s 2019 kickball game in a kelly green kilt and also wore it for a dunking booth during the Safety Fair in 2018.
Also, Amidon dedicates time, energy and earnings to helping animals. “I fund four scholarships at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, as a tribute to my cats Bandit and Bristol. I’ve supported Smoky Mountain Service Dogs by providing financial sponsorship for a Labrador retriever that was given to a local Vietnam War veteran,” he said. The service dog, Sandy, was named after Amidon’s father, who was a Vietnam War veteran and U.S. Marine for 30 years. You can hear the back story and view WATE-TV’s coverage of Amidon at the Smoky Mountain Service Dogs presentation event.