Tony Hamblin

The U.S. Army taught Tony Hamblin more than one set of skills. But after nearly 21 years of service, he was ready to leave the military and give civilian life a try.

The transition wasn’t a simple one. After going to work for a security company, Hamblin realized he wasn’t doing what he really wanted. “As I got to working as a manager in that company,” he explains, “I realized that the skills and the way we deal with individuals in the military is much different than those that you use to motivate and mentor civilians.”

Hamblin began looking for a way to bridge the gap between the skills he learned in the Army and those required as a civilian. He found it thanks to his wife, Mechelle, who was a cosmetology student and SkillsUSA member at Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Oneida/Huntsville.

“She had a lifelong dream of being a cosmetologist and put that dream on hold while I served our country,” Hamblin says. He referred to himself as a “SkillsUSA husband” at that time, but Mechelle encouraged him to join as an active member when he began studying information technology at TCAT.

“She told me about SkillsUSA and how much I would love it. She was right,” he adds. Besides the usual professional and social benefits, Hamblin “saw SkillsUSA as a method to convert my military leadership skills into civilian leadership skills.”

Jumping right into the mix, Hamblin was elected as a state officer in both 2011 and 2012. He also competed in Extemporaneous Speech and won the state gold medal in 2012 and 2013. He went on to compete at the national championships, winning bronze in 2012 and silver in 2013.

He also found many ways to apply his military skills to life as a student.

“I was a drill instructor for three years,” he says. “In that position, I used many techniques to motivate and prepare my soldiers for their mission. Many of those same techniques I still use in my school and SkillsUSA life.”

Hamblin noticed that both organizations focus on many of the same principles, including teamwork, hard work equaling success, and always striving for improvement.

“Those same principles lead to a successful career,” he says. “SkillsUSA has served as a bridge between my two lives.”

From enlisted man to officer

In 2013, Hamblin brought his leadership skills to the national stage when he was elected to SkillsUSA’s student leadership team. He’s now serving as the national college/postsecondary parliamentarian.

Although he’s the oldest member of the team, Hamblin says he was prepared to work with a group of younger students because of his military training.

“When I was a drill instructor, I had to study what methods and techniques motivate the younger generation,” he explains. “Even in the military, it’s important to know what makes your team work effectively.”

One of his most emotional moments as a national officer came in September, during the Washington Leadership Training Institute. Hamblin was one of two SkillsUSA officers selected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

“As a veteran, there is no greater honor than to be allowed to honor those brothers and sisters who have fallen paying the ultimate sacrifice,” he says.

“To be allowed to pay tribute to that family of mine while wearing the red jacket representing my new family was truly a humbling experience. I felt that I got to actually depict the ‘bridge’ that I had referenced before.”

He found the experience to be very emotional for another reason. One of his trainees from the Army had been killed while serving in Iraq.

“I felt that I was honoring her and finally getting closure for her,” Hamblin says. He points out that this recruit was just 19, the same age of many of the students he works and learns with every day.

When he isn’t busy with school or SkillsUSA, Hamblin likes to spend time with his wife and their four children. After 15 years trying, he and Mechelle weren’t sure they’d ever start a family. Doctors told them they’d never be able to have any biological offspring.

The couple still wanted children, so they adopted three Japanese-Filipino siblings while Hamblin was stationed in Hawaii. Four years later, they found out that Mechelle was pregnant, despite the doctors’ predictions.

“It’s God’s gift,” Hamblin says, and their oldest son is now a SkillsUSA member in high school. “We are a SkillsUSA family.”

Hamblin isn’t finished with school quite yet. After completing his IT systems degree, he began studying business systems. “This will provide me with the business training I need to open my own IT business in our community,” he says.

In the meantime, Hamblin has a position with the Tennessee Board of Regents, where he works for the current president of SkillsUSA’s board of directors, James King.

“SkillsUSA has allowed me to be a true role model for my kids,” Hamblin reflects. “Work hard, study hard, and no matter what your age, continue to seek self-improvement.”