From USF to war and back

This holiday season, Lt. Col. Tony Sloan knows what to be thankful for. Sloan, who works for the USF Foundation as a fund-raiser for the College of Business, recently completed more than 18 months of service with the Air Force while being deployed to places such as Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I’m thankful for the support of my family and my employer,” Sloan said. “I can’t do what I do without their support.”

Sloan, a logistics officer, has been in the Air Force Reserve for almost 20 years. Although he had become used to fulfilling his responsibility of active duty requirements with 15- to 30-day stints each year, he wasn’t primed for what was ahead.

“As a reservist, you always know in the back of your mind that (war is) a possibility, but you’re never really prepared until the moment comes,” Sloan said. “And then the moment comes.”

For Sloan, the moment came in January 2002, when he was activated and deployed to Afghanistan. He was deactivated after serving one year, only to be reactivated the following month, when he was sent out to fight in the war with Iraq.

During his deployment, Sloan’s job was more organizational than combative.

“I arranged for the movement of all the central items a soldier needs in the field from point A to point B,” Sloan said. “Everything from beans to bullets.”

Although Sloan said during his career he has “never been prouder” to serve than he is today under President George W. Bush, he does admit that it is also the time when he discovered the hardest aspect of being a soldier.

During his deployment, Sloan missed his daughter Laura’s first and second birthdays, which he said is one of the hardest things he has had to deal with.

“It’s a lot harder on me than it is on her, because I know I missed her birthday and the quality time,” Sloan said.

Sloan is looking forward to January and her third birthday. Undoubtedly, the day will also be special for Sloan’s wife, who Sloan said deserves much more credit than she will ever receive.

“I wish there was a medal for spouses who stay behind,” Sloan said. “My wife Sandy did everything. She took over the bills, the lawn and the house maintenance, even the most mundane house chores,” Sloan said. “She was a real trouper during the whole time, which helped me, in that I didn’t have to worry about anything because she did it all and I was able to do my job without doubting anything.”

Sloan said USF also assisted his family through the tough time while he was away.

“Financially, if it weren’t for USF paying the difference between my military and my university pay, we wouldn’t have been able to make it,” Sloan said. “They couldn’t have been more supportive throughout the whole thing.”

Before being hired by the USF Foundation three years ago, Sloan worked as a fund-raiser for his alma mater, Indiana University. His wife Sandy, originally from Clearwater, moved to Indiana to be with him.

“After three Indiana winters, she wanted to come home,” Sloan said. “Her family is here, including her twin sister, so she wanted to relocate.”

While down visiting family for Easter in 2000, Sloan submitted his resume to the USF Foundation. A few months later, he received a call from the foundation, and after several interviews he moved to Tampa and began working for USF in November of the same year.

“My family and I being here, and me being activated while we were here, was and is all part of God’s plan,” Sloan said. “We were in the right place.”

Sloan said he and his family look back at the decisions they made, including moving to Tampa, unaware of what would happen on Sept. 11, 2001.

“God watched over me and my family,” Sloan said. “Sandy was surrounded by family and friends who gave her plenty of support. In Indiana we didn’t have any family and she wouldn’t have had that.”

Regardless of the trials and tribulations his family has endured, and even though he is on the brink of earning his retirement, Sloan plans to stay in the Reserve for a while. Sloan said that he enjoys his current assignment in Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, and though he spends several days a week there instead of the advertised one weekend a month, he says it’s all worth it.

“I enjoy the military, the reserves and the role that I play. It’s a great part-time job,” Sloan said. “I get a great deal of satisfaction having that as part of my life. There’s a certain degree of patriotism in that I’m doing my part to serve my country.”

Although Sloan may feel like a patriot, he reserves the term hero for others in the military.

“I played a minor role in Afghanistan and Iraq and I want to say that all the praise and the credit go to the soldiers, airmen, seamen and Marines who were on the ground,” Sloan said. “I served in a logistics role in a headquarters. I was pretty far back from the front. The guys and gals that were and are right at the front are really heroes — every one of them.”