As a born and bred (and cornbread fed) South Carolina boy and veteran of the United States Air Force, Appalachia and the Great Smoky Mountains are very close to my heart! I was very fortunate to be given an opportunity to come to Knoxville in May 2016 and join this Straight from the Heart team!
The journey that led me to work in television news is an unexpected one. I once aspired to become an actor out of high school, but serendipity has a way of providing new and unexpected paths in life. When I was 18, I found myself on the other side of an Air Force recruiter's desk after it became clear money for college didn't, in fact, grow on trees.
As an Airman, I worked as a flightline avionics maintainer on C-130 Hercules aircraft at Yokota Air Base in Japan for the majority of my 7-year enlistment. I traveled across the globe for airlift support in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as humanitarian missions such as Joint Task Force Caring Response in 2008 to provide aide to Myanmar following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis. The experiences I had globetrotting and deploying with my 374th AMXS and 36th AS brothers and sisters are ones I will cherish forever. It was a difficult decision, but after my enlistment was up I decided to return to civilian life and seek the education that spurred me to enlist in the first place.
Inspired by the passion my two older sisters have for public service and the newspaper industry at large, I decided to pursue a future as a journalist. I'd never fancied myself much of a writer, but I figured if I could learn to fix airplanes without an ounce of prior knowledge -- I could probably learn to write, too.
I enrolled at the University of Missouri after hearing it had a 'pretty good' journalism program. I eventually gravitated toward working in broadcast news at award-winning stations such as the local NPR affiliate KBIA and WBIR's NBC sister-station KOMU 8 in Columbia, Mo. At my time at KOMU, I became a jack-of-all-trades as an editor, television reporter, fill-in anchor, social media manager, digital reporter, and eventually television producer. I dabbled in business reporting with the Missouri Business Alert, did freelance photography and video work, and served as the digital chair for Mizzou's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
My time serving in Japan also inspired me to study abroad for more than half a year and learn Japanese. Despite a being a little rusty, I can read and speak at a conversational level. If you're looking for a truly challenging language to learn: Go ahead and pick Japanese.
Off the clock, I also enjoy taking in the outdoors, photography, traveling, and nerding out over military aircraft (particularly from the WWII era). I haven't quite given up on being a stage actor, either!
If you want to find me on the job at WBIR, I'm often the 'unseen voice' behind the camera during some of our studio and field Facebook Live sessions. Drop in on one and say hi! You can also send me an email at email@example.com or reach out to me on Twitter at @tomjbarclay.