After the Military, a Call of Duty to His Community
A former Navy base commander now serves the Red Cross in Texas
T.D. Smyers says ‘there is a lot of crossover’ between the Navy and the Red Cross.PHOTO: CINDY REDEMANN
March 15, 2015 11:04 p.m. ET
Who says you can’t go home again? After traveling the world with the Navy, T.D. Smyers has found a new life within several miles of the Texas town where he grew up. He works full time with the American Red Cross serving a community he loves.
“I saw a chance to retire from a long career in the military and do something…to give back to my hometown,” Mr. Smyers says.
That chance came in 2011. Mr. Smyers had spent the previous three years commanding a Navy base in Fort Worth, Texas. He was offered a new job in San Diego, with the lure of a future promotion to admiral. He chose instead to retire from the Navy and stay in Fort Worth.
“What I loved about my job on the base was serving my community,” Mr. Smyers recalls. He wasn’t sure exactly what his next step would be, but he knew he had found his calling.
Mr. Smyers’s wife, Barbara, was a board member for the local Red Cross chapter. He admired the organization, and when he heard about a new executive role the group was seeking to fill, he threw his hat into the ring. “All the lights went on for me, because this was exactly the type of job I wanted,” Mr. Smyers says.
Since January 2012, Mr. Smyers has served as chief executive of the American Red Cross North Texas Region. That encompasses 11 Red Cross chapters spanning 111 counties from the Texas Panhandle to Texarkana.
“I think a few people were unsure about a naval officer joining [the agency], fearing I’d be out of touch,” Mr. Smyers says. “But there is a lot of crossover. The Red Cross and the Navy are both about service and carrying out a mission; they are both global forces for good.”
The Red Cross has five primary missions: disaster relief, services for military personnel, blood supplies for emergencies, health and preparedness training, and international relief.
Mr. Smyers says he faces two big challenges: finding enough volunteers, donors and partners to bring services to the region’s nine million people—and fundraising. “Seeking donations is a new skill set, but I’m getting pretty good at asking for money,” he says.
Though he puts in long hours, Mr. Smyers says he loves his new job, especially when he’s working with volunteers. “I meet all kinds of people who are giving back to their communities, and it’s so inspiring,” Mr. Smyers says. “In my 30 years with the Navy, I looked in the mirror every day and felt privileged to do my job. My new career makes me feel the same way.”
Home:Fort Worth, Texas
First/primary career:Naval officer
Current path:Executive with the American Red Cross
Why this path: “After 30 years in the Navy, I still had a lot of energy to give back.”
Second Acts looks at the varied paths people are taking in their 50s and beyond. The profiles are by Kristi Essick, a writer in California. You can reach her, and let us know how you’re starting over in later life, at email@example.com.