By Mr. Anthony Ricchiazzi (AMC)June 21, 2010
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, PA. -Tom Lipyanic is a believer in the power of a positive attitude. When people ask him about his deafness, he tells them he's not deaf and that he can do anything, even though he is profoundly deaf.
This attitude has carried him from a general equipment mechanic to general equipment mechanic leader in the Power Generators and Environmental Control Branch.
The branch is part of the Systems Integration and Support Directorate's Industrial Services Division.
Lipyanic became deaf at birth because his mother had contracted German measles while pregnant. Born in Brodheadsville, he learned to read lips at his parents urging, noting that his father never learned formal sign language.
"When I was little, my two sisters and I made homemade signs," he said. "I taught them formal sign language when I learned it in school. My father used the homemade signs or gestures and my mom learned to sign from a book."
He went to school in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, living in dorms for more than 14 years. There he made up his mind that he would be a diesel mechanic and went to the school's vocational technical school, graduating in 1983.
"My father was a truck driver and I would often help him fix engines," he said. "That is where I got my motivation."
It became a dream for him that led to something his father said was impossible - earn a truck driving license. "He was in total shock," Lipyanic recalled. "And I came to believe that anyone can do anything if they really want to, deaf or otherwise."
He began his career here in 1984, working with Chris Dumback, another deaf employee. Despite his deafness, Lipyanic travelled the world troubleshooting and repairing generators. He was one of the first deaf employees to have temporary duty, driving 18-wheel tractor trailers, delivering generators to units, and repairing 5-ton trucks.
One of his early trips was to Italy in 1989.
"There was a lot of TDY; I pretty much spent half my career travelling, averaging four to six months per year," he said. "I went to different states and overseas, India, Thailand, Greece, and Portugal. Although I had to be careful in some places, it was a very good experience for me and one of the reasons I learned so much."
He met several deaf people overseas and although the sign languages were different, using common sense got him through.
As he gained experience, his work moved more to generator repair, and much of his work was repairing and testing generators for Firefinder, Guardrail, the Integrated Family of Test Equipment and other systems.
He says he never had a problem communicating with hearing people because he always carries a notepad with him wherever he goes.
Because he loves his job, he stayed in the position for years and found it tough to move. When his leader, William Yaninas, announced that he was retiring, he began thinking about becoming a leader.
"Bill and I joined Tobyhanna the same year," he said. "When he decided to retire, I thought that I could do that job. I had been a temporary leader, so I saw it as an opportunity. Bill was supportive big time. He thanked me for working with him for so long and I thanked him. When he left, it felt like it broke my heart."
Lipyanic was named leader in late March and although he misses the hands-on work and the travel, he still teases his co-workers and feels they are pleased that he is able to perform his new job.
"My leadership philosophy is that I'm here to help the employees, I want them to be satisfied with their jobs and to foster a healthy work environment," he said. "I also think that we are here to serve our customer, the warfighter."
Lipyanic says he is very fortunate to be working at Tobyhanna Army Depot. He credits the work, including the TDY, for allowing him to meet many people and learn a lot, which he says opened the opportunity for a deaf person to be a leader.
"My connections with people have been very good and this disability has not stopped me from doing anything I wanted," he said. "If you believe in yourself, it will lead to your success and accomplishing your goals. Don't look back at your mistakes as a failure to accomplish your dreams. Work hard and almost nothing really can stop you."
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.
About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.