While in Afghanistan, Tharp was stricken with a debilitating neurological disorder – transverse myelitis – caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Tharp experienced pain, numbness and weakness in his arms and legs while continuing to perform his duties.
He insisted on completing his deployment as medical adviser to the commander of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, and supervising and coordinating 28 countries’ medical assets even as he personally struggled with his medical condition.
“Transverse myelitis is an autoimmune deficiency similar to MS,” he explained. “Something happened while I was in Kandahar, and I lost most of the use of my body from the neck down.
“Stress or a virus can trigger it. It affected both sides of my body and I could barely walk,” he said, adding he has since made a full recovery now that he has returned home.
For his efforts under difficult circumstances, Tharp received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for Joint Deployment to Kandahar Airfield (KAF) Region Command South in 2011 and the 2012 Air Force Association Department of Veterans Affairs Employee of the Year Award.
While deployed, Tharp encouraged his wife, Katherine, to return to school to pursue a medical career, specializing in pediatric oncology. Despite his medical condition, when he returned stateside he assumed primary care of their two young sons, Joshua and Peyton, while maintaining his own career to help make her dreams a reality.
He also has started writing a book about his experiences in Afghanistan.
“I started writing it for my kids, and I have about 140 pages written,” he said.
Tharp is a strong proponent of community colleges and education in general. He has worked with officials at McClennan Community College near his home in Texas on post-graduation symposiums. As a member of the Military Officers Association of America, he also provides military and professional guidance to high school and community college students who are interested in ROTC programs or the United States Service Academies.
Still, Tharp is proud of his educational beginnings at DACC and is honored to have received the Distinguished Alumnus award.
“Anything I can do to publicize and lift DACC up,” he said. “When I visited DACC about two months ago, I couldn’t believe all the changes. They really are meeting the challenges of the global market.”