Eddie Maldonado: Exemplary Service through Leadership

Straight out of the Bronx, Eddie entered military service including a year in South Korea.   He additionally served In Japan and Germany with some stateside stations in between.  Still, all of that accounts for only half of Eddie Maldonado’s 30 years of service in the Air Force.

During these 30 years of service he was constantly meeting people, joining new teams, studying the human body and the human condition… all the while, unknowingly honing his ability to lead.  This serviceman has a strong drive and he seems to actively look for challenges to take on.  Eddie joined the Air Force knowing the commitment – but also the opportunity: serve well and travel everywhere.

His first real challenge was pre-enlistment.  He tested to attend the esteemed Bronx High School of Science.   Not letting the odds, or the people who said ‘It’s impossible’, keep him down, Eddie recalls,  “Minority population of that high school was less than 1%.  For everyone who said I couldn’t get in, I wanted to prove them wrong.”  He beat the odds and gained entry.  And, after graduating with honors, he enlisted in the Air Force.

Eddie was a medic, aeromedical evacuator, student, and department leader.  If he wasn’t flying, he was fixing.  If he wasn’t in medicine, he was in classes.  Seems he’s not a big fan of idle time…  “Growing up enlisted, you don’t start with a degree.  You work your way up and earn greater responsibility.”  When Eddie retired from the Air Force, he did so as the highest enlisted rank.

During his time in each tier of the AF, he studied at the three different Air Force Academies.  “You’re put in a group where you don’t know anyone. It’s a seminar-style education.  You have to discuss, use introspection, and speak honestly through your experiences.”  He earned three Distinguished Graduate awards from those academies for ‘academic excellence and superior leadership’.

We asked Eddie to explain what those awards meant to him.  “I helped out my fellow classmates, which is where I think the awards came from.  The thing about leadership, it doesn’t matter what your role is – you can lead from the back.”

Eddie turned his sights to a bachelors program about a year after meeting his wife.  Common for enlisted professionals, interruptions stalled progress in college.  For Eddie, that was his deployments from Germany to Iraq and Afghanistan (recall, that was four years of service abroad).  After returning, he stepped back into his studies and completed his bachelors in 2012.

Discussing why WGU appealed to Eddie, he explained, “The biggest draw to WGU was the competency based model.  In my earlier education, I went to class, studied for a test, passed a test, and then did a brain dump in order to move to the next class.  To me, that didn’t feel like true learning.  In the Air Force, you have to prove by doing – its vocational.  Everything is competency-based in the military.  So when I found WGU and saw the CBE, it made sense to me, and fit my way of learning.”

Eddie recently earned his MBA in Healthcare Management from WGU.  He is employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and feels that his leadership role at a new Oregon facility allows him to continue to serve his country.  What’s most interesting though is how Eddie moved from the medical side of healthcare to the I.T. side of things…

“In the military I was an independent duty medical technician.  I would deploy with 200-400 troops and I would be their provider.  I always had a doctor on the line for things that were beyond me.  The same variables of the human body can be applied to I.T.  You look at the variables, the symptoms, and you try and find a diagnosis.  The patient isn’t human - its a machine.  With all of that medical experience, for me it was an easy transition because the analysis of both systems is similar.  Add to that the fact that everything in healthcare involves a computer.  Everything has a chip in it.  I was the main troubleshooter for machines while still in healthcare.”

He’s just finished the enormous project of opening a 120,000 square foot VA building in Eugene, Oregon.  With over 10,000 patients enrolled with the facility, Eddie looks back and says, “Putting up a high-tech clinic like that is challenging, and there are growing pains, but things are looking good.”

In Eddie’s off time you’ll find him volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol, the U.S. Taekwondo (TKD) College (member of the World Taekwondo Federation), or a local little league.  “In the Civil Air Patrol, I was able to lead a failing unit to success (from 10 kids to 46) and teach a lot of drill and ceremony, which the kids love.  For TKD, it was holding boards, cleaning the dojo, and helping at events – plus my daughter was a black belt and I got to keep an eye on her progress.”

We assumed he either has unlimited reserves of patience, or he syphons energy from kids for his own use – but Eddie explains his past-time endeavors differently…

“I just lend a hand wherever I can, when I see that help is needed.  The thing about youth is that they are our future.  Help mentor them.  When I was young, my father was outstanding – he was a great role model.  You have to listen to a kid to find out where their strengths lie, and mentor them toward success in those.” 

Leadership is something that’s infused into everything Eddie connects himself to.  He’ll write extensively on the topic as a life-long learner, and use his perspectives to earn his PhD in Leadership in Government.  The subject of leadership is universal and his high-level view of it is this:

“Management is about the process, pure and simple.  Leadership is about guiding the people towards a vision.”  - Eddie Maldonado


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