“Some pursue happiness, and others create it.” That’s what Army Sergeant Tom McShane tells the teens in his church youth groups. “He says it all the time,” says girlfriend Mallory Thurman. “It’s what he models his life after.”
This life motto has taken him from the safety and security of Edmond’s city limits, across the world to the line of duty in Iraq, and thankfully, back home again. Although he will still serve through the year 2012, he is firmly back on American soil, for now. Without a second to waste, he is using every minute of his time back to continue his mission of providing for others.
McShane graduated from Edmond Memorial in 1994 and three months after graduating from UCO in 2005, he joined the army. “I’d always wanted to,” he says of enlisting. “I wanted to serve my country.”
McShane had devoted the past several years to volunteering with church youth prior to his tour of duty in Iraq. His friends and family were a bit nervous when he joined the military. John Devito has known Tom since third grade. “It was a surprise, but I was glad he found something he wanted to do,” says Devito. “Tom is a good guy. He likes to give back.”
“When he entered the service we were praying for him,” says Sister Barbara Joseph of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church. “We had long conversations about him joining the military, but he follows his heart. He is a servant. Here in church and for his country.”
Some people join the military to become heroes, but some people were heroes long before they joined.
While McShane was in Iraq for the past year, he and Thurman’s fourth grade students at St. Eugene Catholic School became pen-pals. His youth groups also sent care packages and letters. For Veteran’s Day, Thurman’s students made cards. “They’re so excited to actually know someone who has been to Iraq,”
“We’re all real proud of him,” says Sister Barbara. “We have a plaque on the wall in his honor. And he’s really kept the connection by coming to visit us when he’s home.”
McShane views youth groups as essential to building a religious base for teens. “Church provides a spiritual foundation. They’re building strong friendships and positive influences and if they don’t learn that now they aren’t set up for adulthood,”he said. “Parents aren’t around when they get to college, so it’s important they get that foundation
“Everyone is so focused on activities and getting into a good school,” McShane says. “I just hope more Edmond kids and families realize the importance of God and church and making that a focal point instead of sports and activities.”
McShane grew up in the youth group at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church. “He didn’t break the rules,” says Becky Coyle, who knew him as a young boy. “But you always wondered ‘Where’s Tommy? What’s he up to now?’ He was ornery. But now that he’s matured, he identifies with those kids and he can connect with them.”
“I’m a kid at heart,” McShane says. “So I can connect on their level. I’m honest with them and they relate to that.”
Sister Barbara, who has known him long enough to call him “Tommy”, agrees. “The kids learn honesty and how to be who they are from Tommy,” she says. “He doesn’t put on airs. He truly is himself. He just tells you what he thinks and doesn’t just go along with the norm.”
“He realized how important youth group was for him and now he wants to share that with kids,” says Sister Barbara. McShane also volunteers with a youth group in Kansas, now that he’s stationed at Fort Riley.
McShane’s easy nature endears him to people wherever he goes and he easily becomes part of his community. “To Tom, everyone is equally important,” says Sister Barbara. “He is truly living our gospel message.”
“He’s very interactive,” says Coyle. “He understands where the kids are at but can also keep boundaries. He’s a good role model but also enthusiastic and always ready to do something different and get the kids excited. Wherever the kids are going, he’s ready to go too.”
Nick Dorety met McShane in youth group over five years ago. “I was trying to meet new people and feel comfortable in the youth group, when he came up and introduced himself,” Dorety says. “He was just a welcoming figure and he made it more enjoyable to come every week. I was sad that he left us and the youth group to go to fight for our country, but I respect him even more for doing what he felt was right.”
If some pursue happiness, and others create it, Sgt. McShane is certainly one who creates it. Unsure what life holds for him after the Army, he is quite clear youth ministry will be part of it, because it’s a part of him.