By Master Sgt. Kap Kim, 10th Mountain Division PAO NCOICMay 21, 2015
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 21, 2015) -- Fort Drum's top career counselor spends his days behind a desk in a small office inside the administrative offices of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, and from time to time, someone from Staff Sgt. Timothy Donahue's unit will poke their head in to say hello.
More times than not, they come in to razz the Boston boy about the Red Sox's latest loss to remind him of the Yankees' legacy, but as a proud Bostonian who grew up under tough circumstances within the projects of Brighton, Mass., he has learned how to take things as they come.
Even with his laid-back demeanor, Donahue finished the first and second quarter of the current fiscal year by meeting his retention goals, and then did something that is somewhat rare: he closed out the third-quarter reenlistment mission on the very first day. Donahue adopted a battalion that that low retention numbers when it was under the former 3rd "Spartan" Brigade Combat Team, but with the support of his chain of command, he has cultivated it into the best at Fort Drum during its transition to the 1st Brigade Combat Team.
By all accounts, Donahue's numbers make him the best among the 46 career counselors on Fort Drum, but the hunger for numbers and the desire to be better than everyone else he once felt at the beginning of his time as a career counselor are not as important as the painful "wake-up call" he experienced 11 years ago.
Donahue enlisted in the Army after his grandmother died shortly after his high school graduation. The strict disciplinarian had raised him after his parents moved out of Boston. He joined with the idea that the Army would be a stepping stone and that his time would pass very quickly before he could come back home.
As a cargo transfer specialist, Donahue finished advanced individual training, was assigned to 155th Inland Cargo Transfer Company at Fort Eustis, Va., and quickly deployed with his unit to Kuwait to download vehicles during Operation Iraqi Freedom I. A scuffle with his platoon sergeant and his first of many second chances by his squad leader changed his deployment. He was sent up to Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq.
"I was dumb, young -- a private first class. … I didn't understand the structure of the Army," he recalled, shaking his head. "I mean, I was straight out of AIT and to OIF."
Everything he thought about the Army changed when he redeployed in 2004 and went back to Boston during Labor Day. After leaving a party at a friend's house, he grabbed a slice of pizza and started walking home around 2:30 a.m. He decided to take a path through a park and was stopped by a would-be robber.
"He asked me what I was holding, and I told him that I didn't have anything. Then, he shot at me. It whizzed by me, and then he shot again. It hit me right here," he said pointing at his right leg. "I got lucky. … That could've been to my face."
With adrenaline pumping, Donahue didn't stop to realize what actually happened. After the assailant ran off, he just started to walk to the nearest hospital. During his walk, he recalled being upset because the blood stained his new pair of shoes.
The first hospital didn't have a trauma center, so he had to go to another hospital. There, they rushed him into surgery where he ended up losing some muscle tissue that would leave him impaired. He would spend the next few months on convalescent leave at his mother's house.
"I saw my medical bills, and it was $50,000 for a skin graft," he said. "That incident changed my focus."
During his recovery, Donahue's battalion sergeant major called and other members of his team wanted to make sure he was all right.
"That event really showed me it was a Family and everyone's important," he said. "Up until then, I was dead set on getting out and going to college."
After months of recovery, he returned to his unit, but by the time he did, his fellow Soldiers had begun preparing for their second Iraq deployment. Donahue was being evaluated for a medical board that would determine his future as a Soldier, but his unit got involved and helped to retain him.
"The command team really took care of me then, and I ended up reenlisting in Taji in 2005," he said. "Capt. Christopher Johnson was really good for my career ... even though he's a Yankees fan."
It was the fact that his leaders continued to make sure he was all right and treated as a vital member of the team that changed the way he would think about his career and ultimately help shape the type of career counselor he is today.
"When Soldiers come here, I treat them like they are important," Donahue said. "I mean, it's a big deal for Soldiers to sign their name on a dotted line for three or four years."
Donahue has never lost sight of the importance of the decision to stay in the Army, due in large part to one of his earliest mentors in the retention realm when he started off as his company's retention rep.
Sgt. 1st Class Nia Robinson, who was then Donahue's battalion career counselor, noticed something special about the scrappy New Englander.
Robinson, who serves as a career counselor with the 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade, saw a young man who, though rough around the edges, had a drive and took the time to help his fellow Soldiers.
"Some Soldiers run from their career counselors. I mean, as soon as you see someone on the retention team, they run the other way -- the ones who weren't ready to make a decision," she said jokingly.
She said it was different for Donahue, who walked around with a swagger and confidence that came with his "charisma."
"There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for his Soldiers in his unit," she said. "He was always out there beating the pavement."
During the times when he came to her and constantly asked about the mission, she helped guide him to understand the importance of the mission away from the quota.
"I told him that if you take care of the Soldiers and their Families, the mission will come," she said.
Donahue has never forgotten her guidance, and he continues to call on her.
"She taught me everything I know," he said about Robinson. "She brought me into this field, she showed me that the job isn't always about the numbers because she didn't care about the mission; she cared about the Soldiers."
At his current unit, Donahue helped Soldiers like Spc. Ly Nguyen and his Family find a new path. After months of hard work on both ends, Nguyen is going to build on his infantry roots and go into intelligence.
"Staff Sgt. Donahue helped me out a lot," he said. "I didn't think I'd get in it, but he worked so hard to get me that job."
Ngyuen, 38, will begin his new career path in a few months, as he will attend the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, Calif. He said he discussed the decision with his entire Family, and although his father and brother wanted him to get out, his spouse and child were happy with the choice.
"I'm going to stay in as long as I can," Nguyen said. "I like the discipline."
In 1-32 Infantry, Donahue's philosophy has resonated throughout the entire command as Lt. Col. James Eldridge, the battalion commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Holmes have helped to foster their belief in getting qualified troops the most options they can to build on their infantry foundation.
"It's a big deal for these kids, and at the end of the day, it's not about the battalion," Holmes said. "If the Soldier leaves here with additional skill sets, they are an asset (wherever they go) in the future."
Donahue said he appreciates the support his command has given him throughout his time as their career counselor, and he has sat with Holmes when they have made calls to the U.S. Army Human Resources Command to get better options for their Soldiers.
Holmes quickly dismissed any credit for their successful program, saying he understands that it has always been the result of Donahue's hard work and perseverance with the company command teams.
"I'm proud of the work Staff Sgt. Donahue and company commanders and first sergeants have done," Holmes said. "They worked their tails off, and people see it."