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Salute Military Community: Drew Henderson

Salute Military Community Interview - Drew Henderson

What is the Salute Military Community?

The Salute Military Community is a unique cohort of veterans and the military community who serve as examples of the value their experiences bring to our industry. The Military Community supports Salute’s mission and strives to achieve our shared vision of providing veterans and military spouses career opportunities in the data center industry. We are proud of the military community for giving back to other members seeking to start careers in this industry.

Lee Kirby, Salute Co-Founder, and retired Army colonel, interviewed Military Community member Drew Henderson, Mission Critical Consultant at Vertiv and US Air Force veteran.

Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born and raised Small Town, South Georgia, where the community revolved around agriculture and football. Reflecting on my upbringing, I value the closeness of families and the strong sense of community in that region. Life was like living in a time capsule, with little change evident during subsequent visits. Interestingly, the company I presently work for boasts a larger workforce than the population of the county where I spent my formative years. Growing up, my mother managed our household while my father served the community as a title abstractor. Dad had the mentality that if you could serve, you should serve. His unwavering appreciation for the military significantly influenced my decision to take the oath.

Presently residing near Atlanta in Sharpsburg, Georgia, with my wife Rachel, our involvement in the community remains robust. Blessed with five children aged 15 to 25, along with two daughters-in-law, our familial ties and community engagement remain central to our lives.

And what are you doing today?

I am honored to serve as the Southeast Regional Sales Manager for Vertiv, Inc., a global leader specializing in designing, constructing, and maintaining core-to-edge solutions for mission-critical applications. Our products constitute the critical infrastructure powering, cooling, and monitoring the digital world we inhabit. In essence, Vertiv is synonymous with mission-critical. My purview includes the states of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama, with a strategic focus on enhancing reliability while minimizing downtime and risk for our diverse clientele. Collaborating with esteemed representative firms such as Joe Powell and Associates, Gwyn Sales, and Faulkner Haynes and Associates, we ensure our Vertiv Partners stay abreast of Integrated Rack Solutions, equipped to meet the evolving needs of our mutual customers.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background? 

Enlisting in the Air Force in December of 1996, I began as a “slick sleeve,” an E-1 with no stripes. Later, they assigned me to power generation within the Civil Engineering Squadrons, my responsibilities encompassed installing, servicing, and maintaining critical assets on bases and forward locations. These assets ranged from large generator systems to uninterruptible power supplies and power plants, playing a pivotal role in supporting base-wide operations.

Post-technical training, my first station was in Alamogordo, NM, followed by an extended assignment in Spangdahlem AFB, Germany, with the 52d Civil Engineers. Stationed there for four years, I deployed multiple times, contributing to various significant operations over the years. Achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant, my military journey continued at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ, with the 355th Civil Engineers, culminating in an honorable discharge after eight years of service. The numerous deployments and commendations, including Outstanding Unit Awards, underscore the impactful missions I was privileged to be part of during my military tenure. I was led by and served with some of the finest people in the world. Grateful doesn’t come close to describing how blessed I am to know and serve with them.

Do you have a memorable story from your military career that taught you valuable lessons? 

One notable experience unfolded during the 2002 Georgia Bulldog football season. Anticipating watching the Sugar Bowl with my brother in New Orleans, I received a message from my NCOIC upon reaching Texas, redirecting me home for follow-on orders. This directive, although disruptive to personal plans, underscored the unpredictable nature of military service. The subsequent mission involved establishing a Bare Base in Jordan, a base built from scratch, with my team responsible for the power plant installation and operations. Soon after staffing the base with NATO troops upon completion, the war with Iraq began. The efficiency and collaboration exhibited by our 35-member team of engineers was exemplary, resulting in commendations and recognition for executing the fastest bed down in military history.

The key takeaway from this mission resonates in the business world: the potency of a dedicated, small team sharing common goals. The trust and commitment displayed by team members, focused on collective efforts rather than individual returns, underscored the principle that a unified team can achieve more than the sum of its parts.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership?

Undoubtedly, my military background has been instrumental in shaping my preparedness for subsequent endeavors. My dynamic exposure to mission-critical operations, from end-user perspectives during active duty to collaborations with manufacturers, factory rep firms, and integrators, has provided a comprehensive understanding. Having witnessed mission criticality from the factory to the foxhole, the discipline and accountability instilled during military service are transferable and indispensable in various post-military roles.

As a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), the leadership skills honed in stressful situations, leading diverse and evolving teams globally, have proven invaluable in my business and leadership roles post-separation. The military’s emphasis on adaptability and collaboration, traits fostered through interactions with teams from different backgrounds, has been a formidable asset in navigating the complexities of my current role.

Is there someone you are particularly grateful to for helping you reach where you are today? 

Expressing gratitude necessitates acknowledging a constellation of impactful individuals who have shaped my journey. Donnie Webb, a fellow USAF Veteran and cotton scouting companion, exemplified work ethic and character, influencing my decision to join the USAF and setting my career trajectory. Post-separation, John Kelly of Kelly Generator and Equipment extended trust by providing an opportunity to sell generator parts, facilitating my transition from technical roles to the business and sales domain.

Brenda Medlin’s mentorship during my tenure at Lee Technologies, Inc., now Schneider Electric, was transformative. Under her guidance, I gained insights into the Data Center industry and applied my military-acquired electrical knowledge to customer needs, evolving into a proficient sales professional. Tom Mertz’s leadership during my Atlanta-based outside sales role further prepared me for Sales Management. Throughout my journey, I’ve been fortunate to work under the guidance of exceptional leaders in the industry.

Why is helping the military community and veterans get into this industry so important to you? 

The ethos of “Veterans helping veterans” embodied by the Salute Veterans Community aligns with my core values of reciprocal support. Reflecting on my own challenging transition from the military to the civilian workforce in 2004, the absence of current technological aids made the process arduous. The stress of securing employment, compounded by potential relocations and family responsibilities, paralleled the strains of military deployments.

Aware that many qualified military personnel in mission-critical roles face or will encounter similar transition challenges, I recognize the need to illuminate the opportunities within our industry. Leveraging their clearances for specialized job roles, virtual learning sessions, and job fairs could serve as effective avenues to attract more veterans into this field.

If you could inspire a movement, what would it be?

My focus would be on addressing the burgeoning student debt crisis, particularly in the context of higher education. With two children having graduated from the University of Georgia and another attending the University of South Carolina, I am acutely aware of the financial burden these students bear. While acknowledging that attending college is a personal choice, I would advocate for merit-based opportunities to alleviate this financial strain.

I envision a merit-based approach, as well as high schools actively educating students on financial risks. This early awareness can empower students to comprehend how their academic efforts can impact their long-term financial freedom. Collaborations between public and private sector entities with educational institutions could yield additional merit-based scholarship opportunities, potentially reducing student debt before embarking on their collegiate journey.

How can our readers follow you online?

If you are a veteran or military spouse looking for an exciting career in a growing industry, contact us at Salute. We can help put you on the path to success.

If you are looking to close the data center talent gap with individuals committed to bringing military precision to their careers, contact us. Employ the heroes of today, tomorrow.

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