BALTIMORE — As a psychologist, Lt. Col. David Tharp wanted to serve veterans better. The Oakwood native knew exactly how to do that — volunteer for a tour of duty with the Air Force Reserves in Afghanistan.
For his service and outstanding performance of duty, Tharp has been named the Air Force Association 2012 Veterans Affairs Employee of the Year. He received his award in September in Baltimore.
In addition, for his efforts to NATO, the Air Force and the country, he received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the third highest Department of Defense award.
Tharp, 47, of Waco, Texas, was awed by the Employee of the Year award, saying, “It was an amazing experience. I was totally blown away.”
It also was a humbling experience, he said in a telephone interview. “Awards are nice, but there are people who sacrifice their lives for our country.”
A 1983 graduate of Oakwood High School, Tharp credits his upbringing in the Midwest with his success. Playing football, participating in Boy Scouts and attending the Muncie Baptist Church all gave him a solid background. His parents, the late Joe and Norma Tharp, also were a positive influence.
“We’re very proud of him,” his sister, Carol Sands of Danville, said. “To be picked employee of the year nationally is awesome.”
She also hopes his story inspires other local people to know that they can succeed on a national level.
Tharp’s other siblings are Kevin of Danville, Brian of Champaign and Joe of Urbana.
Tharp serves as a clinical and research psychologist at the VA Heart of Texas Health Care Network Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans, located at the VA hospital in Waco. His work supports research on veterans’ health-care issues, especially in the area of mental health challenges for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.