CRANE, Ind. – Norman Thomas, Crane Army Ammunition Activity’s civilian executive assistant, will be receiving the 2021 Outstanding Mechanical Engineering Award from the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. The faculty committee cited Thomas’ mastery of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, dedication to leadership and community service throughout his illustrious career at Crane Army as reasons for recognition.
Thomas’ federal career spans 38 years in ammunition manufacturing, maintenance, logistics, engineering and management. With an extensive education portfolio, he graduated from Purdue University in December 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and started his career at CAAA in April 1983.
“When I started at Crane Army, my dad asked me whether I wanted to be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond. Until I started working here, I didn’t know that I aspired to be a manager and a leader,” Thomas said.
Thomas joined CAAA as a project engineer working in gun ammunition, demilitarization, renovation, maintenance and pyrotechnics. He was regularly promoted for his leadership skills and high performance across Crane Army directorates as an engineer. Working on the gamut of manufacturing and engineering projects at the activity helped Thomas become a well-rounded leader and gave him the awareness of the organization, from top to bottom, necessary to take on a leadership role.
“Norm is a true leader in every sense of the word,” said Col. Stephen Dondero, commander of Crane Army Ammunition Activity. “It became apparent to me early on that he exercises very sound judgement, not one to rush headlong into failure. He leads with a steady hand and is both fair and firm.”
One of the most memorable accomplishments during his tenure was manufacturing Humvee doors that provided more safety features after a slew of attacks on military vehicles by foreign adversaries in the early 2000s.
"We got sent the drawing package, though most of the organic industrial base operations across the nation could not keep up with demand,” Thomas said. “Within 30 days, we were making doors that were helping protect our deployed warfighters.”
In July 2010, Thomas assumed the position of civilian executive assistant after spending three years as chief of staff and 27 years climbing the managerial ladder at CAAA.
“Norm was the consummate, quiet professional who was willing to take calculated risks, be hard when the situation required, and he could always be counted on to provide some levity when needed,” Col. (Ret.) Michael Garlington, former commander of Crane Army Ammunition Activity, said.
The OME Award was established in 1991 by the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University to recognize alumni who have demonstrated excellence in their career and mechanical engineering endeavors. One of approximately 30,000 alumni of the school, Thomas joins around 280 of his peers to be recognized with the prestigious award.
“I’m totally surprised and humbled by this recognition,” Thomas said. “My career at Crane Army has given me the opportunity to excel, and this award is confirmation that I’m doing the right thing.”
Thomas will be honored alongside both 2020 and 2021 Outstanding Mechanical Engineers in a September ceremony held at Purdue University.
About Crane Army
Crane Army Ammunition Activity ships, stores, demilitarizes and produces conventional munitions in support of U.S. Army and Joint Force readiness. It serves as the second largest Army ammunition depot, holding roughly a fourth of the U.S. Department of Defense’s conventional munitions. CAAA was established in October 1977 as a subordinate command of JMC and AMC.