REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Any young engineer, technician or business professional who has talked to Dr. Tom Pieplow about career advancement knows true success is found in balancing future opportunities both at work and in their personal lives.

Beyond long hours, big projects and task completions in their professional fields, the director of the Aviation and Missile Command's Security Assistance Management Directorate advises career climbers to also seek satisfaction, opportunity and promotion away from the office.

"Life is about giving back," Pieplow said. "A lot has been given to us. Our responsibility is to give it back. What does it take to get promoted' You have to have a well-balanced life and part of that is giving back to mankind.

"Volunteering and making a difference in other people's lives helps you keep things in perspective. It's not about thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. There's a lot of ways out there that you can help and feel good about it. Instead of developing inward, develop outward, and the promotions and opportunities will come your way."

The 56-year-old executive follows his own advice. Pieplow, who is active in his church in Athens, recently returned from a mission trip to Guatemala. He has also participated in AMCOM's Education Outreach Program. He serves as an adjunct professor at Florida Tech, Alabama A&M University and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and on the board of directors for the Auburn University Alumni Association and Tennessee Valley Rehabilitation Center.

"A career is not about money. It's about where you can make the biggest contribution," Pieplow said. "Nothing excites me more than being able to help the men and women who are deployed. I could work every day and every hour, and I still wouldn't feel I was doing as much as they are doing for us. I have a passion for making a difference for Soldiers."

Lately, Pieplow's own perspective as director of SAMD has taken a bit of a different direction. His view these days still falls within the walls of SAMD, but there are more glances toward the outside community as he prepares for retirement after 32 years with the Department of Defense. Pieplow's retirement is set for Monday at 1 p.m. in Bob Jones Auditorium. AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Jim Myles will preside over the retirement ceremony.

Even as retirement looms, Pieplow still enjoys the opportunity to work with the younger generation of engineers, technicians and business professionals who are entering the Redstone Arsenal work force. He admires their grasp of technology, their energetic approach to problems and their desire to do more, dream bigger and accomplish even greater things than their predecessors.

"In my generation, when there was a hot issue or a hot problem, the solution was to work harder and longer hours to find a solution," he said. "The kids today are brought up with computers, with information technology. Their reaction to a problem is to come up with an IT solution. The kids coming into the work force now have a much greater skill set than we did. I can see the transition."

While director of SAMD, Pieplow has overseen tremendous growth in an agency responsible for managing the transfer and sustainment of 24 Army aviation and missiles systems to more than 70 countries. Foreign military sales averaged $1.5 billion between 2003 and 2006. In 2007, when Pieplow took over at SAMD, the average for foreign military sales doubled and, in 2009, foreign military sales for SAMD soared to $14 billion. To handle the demand for foreign military sales, SAMD has grown to become an organization of more than 280 employees.

Close to 45 percent of SAMD's current work force has been hired in the last few years.

"We've infused the organization with new talent. We are putting money and resources into hiring college graduates and retired military to build this organization," he said. "The college graduates revitalize this organization while the retired military gives us a lot of expertise.

"The thing that is going to live on after I leave are the people we've brought into this organization. We have given these young people an opportunity and they have risen to the opportunity to show us what they can do."

Pieplow enjoys mentoring and encouraging young professionals, and hopes to continue teaching business classes at the college level in retirement.

"The development of young talent is exciting to me," he said. "I like watching people who have been presented a challenge and watching how they achieve success. I like to see their sense of satisfaction when they are able to do something they thought they couldn't do."

Pieplow believes employment will continue to grow as SAMD reaches for its potential of $50 billion to $60 billion annually in foreign military sales. To keep the organization on the right growth track, Pieplow will remain with SAMD unofficially until the search begins for his replacement and for a replacement for his deputy, Dan Parker, who is retiring Tuesday.

"We never could have done half the things we've down without Dan Parker," Pieplow said. "He is a superb business leader and friend. We both wanted to leave this place better than we found it.

The next leader here will see the fruits of our efforts to bring in new talent and developing new talent. Somebody is going to be able to come in here and take this organization far beyond what we've been able to do."

Pieplow came to Redstone Arsenal in 1978 as an Army Materiel Command intern. He has enjoyed several challenges in various logistic and program management positions in support of aviation and missile development at Redstone Arsenal. Previous to his assignment at SAMD, Pieplow served as the associate director for aviation at the Integrated Materiel Management Center.

"There have been so many highlights in my career since I started working as an Army Materiel Command intern at Redstone Arsenal in 1978," he said. "I've enjoyed every assignment. But what really stands out to me are the commanders who took me with them to talk with Soldiers, and particularly Lt. Gen. (Jim) Pillsbury who took me to Afghanistan and Iraq when he was commander of AMCOM.

"Once you are actually on the ground, working hand in hand, talking face to face and looking eye to eye with troops as well as the people of the nation, it puts everything in a different perspective."

SAMD's role in managing the sale of AMCOM systems to foreign countries has a direct impact on the Soldier in the field, as does the jobs of many of the Arsenal's employees.

"The number one priority of everybody at Redstone Arsenal should be taking care of our Soldiers," Pieplow said. "Everything we do each day should help Soldiers and the civilians who are deployed, in some cases, in very dangerous places.

"At SAMD, we believe the best way to serve the Soldier is to bring him home. When we sell our systems to our allies, it allows these countries to defend themselves. If we can support the security needs of other countries by providing them with aviation and missile systems, then we can bring our Soldiers home. We have a responsibility to bring our kids home as quickly as possible. When countries take on their own security needs, then we will be able to do that."

Foreign military sales also bring revenues back into the U.S. industrial base while reducing the reliance on the U.S. for security forces.

"There is a growing recognition that the U.S. can't be the policeman of the world," Pieplow said. "Countries will have to step up and take care of their own needs. There is a worldwide demand for security equipment. The U.S. is still looked at as providing the best equipment and services for national defense, and foreign military sales represent dollars that bring jobs into the U.S. and maintain jobs in the U.S. But the challenge is the U.S. is not the only player anymore."

While other countries can provide systems at less cost and less lead time, the U.S. maintains high standards to provide the best systems in the world.

"We have to keep our customers coming back to us," Pieplow said. "We do that by keeping our standards high and providing the best customer service. We have been highly successful. The largest FMS case in the Army's history was executed here at Redstone."

That case involved more than $6 billion in the purchase of Patriot and several other systems by the United Arab Emirates. AMCOM systems aren't only sold to countries needing to defend against terrorists or aggressive neighbors. SAMD has also negotiated purchases with Mexico to provide systems used in combating drug trafficking along its borders.

Although the diplomacy and policy decision-making related to foreign military sales is handled primarily by the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense, SAMD employees do get involved with hosting foreign dignitaries who visit Redstone Arsenal to negotiate the purchase of AMCOM systems.

"What has enabled SAMD to be successful is that, first, we want to be a friend with these countries prior to looking at them as customers. The relationships we build with them are so important," he said. "We want them to build trust in us, and then they become a friend who happens to be a customer."

Besides making a difference for war fighters, SAMD employees are also encouraged to make a difference within the Arsenal community.

"I believe SAMD employees are role models and we need to view ourselves as role models," Pieplow said. "I want our people being promoted wherever across this command. I want our people to populate positions of influence and make a difference within this command. We ought to view ourselves as being among the best because we are always setting the standard higher than what we may think is achievable."

For Pieplow, his actual retirement has been elusive for some time, with no exact date feeling right. But, now, he said, is a good time as the SAMD work environment is in excellent shape.

"We have just consummated the largest FMS case in history. We've been successful with re-energizing the work force and we've rebuilt the bar at SAMD with a confident work force that has great talent," he said. "There are a lot of opportunities here for employees. And, for me, I'm excited to see the opportunities that I will have in retirement.

"There is a degree of apprehension and uneasiness. But I have perfect peace about it. I'm not worried about the next step."