Commentary

Recognizing Duty, Honor, And Country

It was more than seven years ago, during an early-morning visit to the offices of NetGravity, that I met Tom Deierlein. NetGravity was the Internet's leading ad serving company and I was running a competitor, Real Media. When I got to the office, I didn't know who the really friendly guy was who got me my coffee and chatted me up, but he sure seemed to know a lot about me, my company, and the market.

Later, I learned that it was Tom. Although we were just meeting, I had heard a good deal about him before. He was already one of our industry's leaders (and had just beaten us on a very big deal.) He was the evangelist of online advertising, relentlessly preaching its value to hundreds of traditional publishers, agencies, and marketers. After NetGravity was sold to DoubleClick in 1999, Tom became the head of sales and then chief operating officer of Dynamic Logic, the preeminent market research company in our industry, which recently merged to become Millward Brown Dynamic Logic. Over the years, we have become good friends, even attending each other's wedding (Tom's was at the beginning of the month, on Nov. 5.).

As many of you know, Tom has just been called for active duty service in the US Army. He reported a week and a half ago. After seven months of training, he is expected to be deployed to Iraq for one year. While I knew that Tom was a West Point grad and had served in the Rangers a number of years ago, I was as surprised as everyone else to hear that he had been called up. Tom's situation was a major topic of discussion among Ad:Tech attendees. His announcement e-mail has been forwarded throughout the industry:

I am being called up to serve for 545 days reporting first to Fort Jackson and then to Fort Bragg and then likely to Iraq. Yes, I guess it has gotten so bad they are calling up 38-year-old, beer-bellied has-beens. Basically, 4-6 months of training and a one-year tour. I have been in the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) for 12 years. I haven't been associated with any unit or been a part of any training whatsoever. I haven't had a uniform on since October of 1993, so, I never imagined that this would happen.

Aside from a medical exam or two, and an outside chance that Uncle Sam comes to his senses, it looks like I need to take a leave of absence from DL.

I have the full support of Hiwot, my fiancé and something told me not to fight this but rather to embrace it and go ahead and serve my country with honor, dignity, and pride. Therefore, unless my medical exams turn something up, I need to start getting my affairs in order. As many of you know, I am a West Point Grad and used to be an elite soldier (Airborne Ranger), I guess it is time to take off my business suit, don my Army uniform, set back the clock and become that soldier again.

Having friends serve in the military isn't new for me. I grew up in a small town in the mountains of western Pennsylvania where joining the Armed Forces was what kids did. At least a dozen of my high school classmates served in the first Gulf War. As a resident of New York for the past eight years, I watched one of the founding employees of TACODA join the Army after 9/11 and spend a year in Baghdad running the city's business development center. Just as these folks' service has deserved special recognition, so does Tom's here.

At a point when our industry is entering a go-go time, when dollars and demand and conference parties are flowing like never before--even during the Bubble--we should spend a few minutes to recognize the sacrifices of Tom and others for what we have. Whether we support the policies of the war or not, we certainly owe an enormous debt to those who serve. The war touches many of us, but mostly from a distance. Maybe it takes having someone like Tom called up--someone that we all know and care about--for us to step back for a moment to try to understand the sacrifices of others and to try to understand some of the true implications of war.

I know that as I make decisions on a daily basis over the next year and a half, I am going to think more about notions of honor and sacrifice. I am going to think about Tom. I am going to think about his wife, Hiwot. I am going to think about the challenges that Nick Nyhan, Mary Ann Packo, and the rest of the folks over at Millward Brown Dynamic Logic have taken on by temporarily dividing his responsibilities among themselves in order to keep his position open and waiting for him on his return. As CEO of a smaller company, I know that it will be challenging for them, in this frantic marketplace, to manage the business without a chief operating officer, although I am sure that they are up to the task.

Tom, I know that I speak for the thousands in our industry that you have touched. Thank you for reminding us about honor and responsibility. Thank you for your sacrifice. Godspeed to you. We are all praying for your safe and swift return.

Recommend (2) Print RSS