It would be more accurate if the title of this week’s “On the Job” feature were changed to “Back on the Job.”
That’s because Damon Brogdon, an engineering draftsman for Facilities and Services at the UI for five years, only recently returned to his cubicle at the Physical Plant Services building after serving overseas the past five months through his Air National Guard unit, the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.
“Kudos and thank you to everyone here for being very supportive,” he said. “It’s still challenging getting back in to the work dynamic.”
It was Brogdon’s fourth deployment and his second one overseas since starting his civilian career in 1990 at a local engineering firm. While one deployment took him to Germany for more than a year, the others have been within the U.S. to assist civilian agencies with natural disasters. In this last instance, Brogdon was the only soldier called up from his unit.
No matter how many times he’s deployed, he said it never gets easy.
“I came back March 5 and I still feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things,” he said. “In the first week I told my boss I was kind of useless.”
He said co-workers and supervisors have been supportive and understanding regarding the demands of his military service.
“When I found out, I just went in and had a conversation with my supervisor and we made a plan to deal with it,” Brogdon said. An extra help position was added to fill in until Brogdon returned.
Brogdon said long-term deployments are harder on his family and his co-workers than on himself. He had just three months notice before the most recent deployment.
“Being deployed is the easiest thing in the world because your only focus is the mission, nothing else,” he said. “It’s difficult when you come home and have to reintegrate and adapt to your job and family. Your family develops their own routines and now you’re the broken cog trying to fit into the machine.”
Originally from Panama City, Fla., Brogdon discovered his interest in mechanical drawing in a high school drafting class.
“I took it because my best friend was taking it,” he said. “At the time, I had no real direction in my life.”
That led to a scholarship, though by then Brogdon had become interested in computers and was considering a career in information technology. Luckily, the drafting profession also was transitioning from the light table to the computer.
“I was terrible at lettering,” he said. “My instructor in college used to ride me like a rented mule about my lettering. Mine was too blocky and engineering-like; he said it lacked flair and character.”
But Brogdon persevered. He moved to Illinois to be around his wife-to-be, Dede, whom he met while attending community college in Florida. He kept attending classes and in 1990 started working at a local engineering company as a computer-aided draftsman and its networking administrator. He joined the Air National Guard in 1992.
“My stated goal at that time was to get enough money to go to college,” he said. “But then I ended up loving practically every minute of it.”
He left the private company for the UI position in 2007.
Brogdon is a first sergeant, which he said is the military equivalent of a human resources manager.
“Our primary focus is the people,” he said. “I do anything to make sure they are ready to take on a mission. One of the things I love about the job is it’s always different. It’s vastly different than what I do in the civilian world, which is a nice break.”
His job entails everything from logistics to issues that affect morale, and he’s done it well enough to earn recognition along the way. In 2009, he was named First Sergeant of the Year by the 182nd Airlift Wing and at the state level.
Brogdon said many of his military skills translate to his civilian job, but being in the military is an entirely different way of looking at things.
“You talk to people differently (in the military) than in the private sector,” he said. “You have to use different tactics in the civilian world.”
Brogdon said, like his military unit, his UI division also is well organized and everyone’s duties are clearly defined. There are two branches in his division – design and review – and he works on projects below the $250,000 threshold.
“We assist the engineers with preparing construction documents,” he said.
He said he used to have frequent contact with draftsmen and engineers when he held the private sector engineering job. He said the UI’s design and review system has been made more streamlined and easier to navigate in that time.
“It’s come a long way in the past 20 years,” he said. “Back then I was very unimpressed with what I saw.”
Brogdon said he’s glad to be home and should soon be settled in entirely. While he missed his family, including two daughters, 17 and 20, on the last deployment, he’s still buzzing over his overseas experience, where he served 150 soldiers.