Marine, a helper at Fukushima, finds ‘slow lane’
March 10, 2014 — Alumni News
In civilian and military worlds, retired Marine Col. Tony White ’83 has always given his best. His “wild ride” carried him, among other places, to South America and Korea, and to Japan during the Fukushima disaster. Last year, he retired from active duty to a small town outside of San Antonio with his wife, Michelle (Villers ’86), and their two daughters, Sarah and Rachel.
He calls this the “slow lane” and takes pleasure in watching the deer wander through his neighbor’s yard. Still, White works as director of sales and marketing for Power Ten, a defense, space and energy company. (He’s also a CLU class representative, collecting news about fellow 1983 graduates.)
White was on assignment and living with his family in Okinawa in March 2011 when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off Japan’s northern coast, provoking a destructive tsunami and the disaster at the nuclear power plant. He directed all U.S. military intelligence support for Operation Tomodachi (“Friends”), which provided humanitarian relief to the area.
“I was a liberal arts major at CLU, but I got to work with some of the greatest minds in the nuclear field. I got a ‘doctorate’ in nuclear education,” he said. “Our biggest concern was, Would Fukushima turn into a Roman candle like Chernobyl? On the ground, as we got more information, we found the design of the plant was very good in comparison to Chernobyl.”
Other assignments included a stint conducting intelligence focused on the Balkans and Kosovo. He led amphibious exercises and counter-insurgency and weapons training for Marines in several South American countries, using Spanish skills learned both at home and at CLU. One of his hardest roles was operations officer for casualty notifications in Kansas in 1991.
“It was a very difficult and demanding position to break really bad news to people – telling them their fathers or sons or husbands had been killed or wounded.”
As a military liaison to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, D.C., White was told to go to the White House to conduct a briefing on security plans for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He showed his identification card at the gate and was ushered into an office where he delivered a presentation to national leaders.
“My speech classes with Dr. Bev Kelley all paid off!” he chuckled, adding, “I had to ask myself, is this real or am I dreaming?”
White intended to join the Marines right out of high school in East Los Angeles, but a friend’s father encouraged him to take the SAT and apply to college instead. And so he ended up at CLU, taking officer candidate training in the summer. Out of college, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Fleet Marine Force.
During the course of his 30-year career, often juggling reserve duties with a full-time civilian job, he earned two Legion of Merit awards, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
“Looking back on it, I had some great opportunities with the Marines. I was able to teach and train young recruits. I was able to serve as staff in some infantry-level positions. I received some great intelligence training and experience in contingency planning with our allies. I was able to see how the three branches of government work to develop foreign policy,” White said. “It’s been fantastic…. I have truly been blessed to have served my country, to have God’s abundant help and to have the steadfast support of my wife, Michelle, through it all.”