Where were you on 9/11?
On Sept. 1, 2001, Dr. Don Reising—now a UC Foundation Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga—was participating in an annual two-week out-of-state training exercise with the Ohio Army National Guard.
His route to being in North Dakota that fateful morning had taken him from high school to four years in the U.S. Army and back to his home state of Ohio—where he was attending the University of Cincinnati. Coinciding with his degree pursuit, he had enlisted in the Ohio Army National Guard.
Reising and the other soldiers of B Company, 112th Combat Engineer Battalion were building a Bailey bridge—a portable, prefabricated truss bridge—and had just gotten off a break when the instructors told them, “All right guys, take another break.”
“We hadn’t even worked 10 minutes since the last break,” Reising said, “so we knew something was up.
“Then they came over to the break area and told us that planes had struck the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center, and another one,” he paused, his voice trailing off, “another had struck the Pentagon, so I knew right then that I was going somewhere. I knew we were going to war.
“When I was on active duty, we always talked about how every generation had its war and we hadn’t had ours yet. And that’s when we got ours.”
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This Friday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day—a federal holiday observed annually to honor military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Reising served in the U.S. Army from 1995-1999 and the Ohio Army National Guard from 1999-2005. He will be the keynote speaker for the Chancellor’s Veterans’ Day Luncheon.
When asked to speak at the event, “I thought, ‘Why me?’ to be honest, because I’m not anybody special,” Reising said. “A lot of people have served our nation, and a lot of people have done more than I’ve done as a military member. So to be asked to do something like that, I consider it a privilege and honor.
“I’m not just representing myself. I’m representing all my brothers and sisters in arms.”
Reising’s journey toward military service began long before enlisting in the U.S. Army out of high school.
He grew up in a family of modest means in the little farming town of Wellington, Ohio; his father worked in construction and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. He dreamed of going to college, but—just like his older siblings—he was told, “You have to find your own way. Our responsibility ends when you’re 18,” he recalled.
“I knew I wanted to go to college and study engineering, but I had to find a way to pay for it.”
The military turned out to be the answer. A combination of the GI Bill, the Army College Fund and the National Guard paid for his bachelor’s degree. The U.S. Air Force paid for his master’s degree and his Ph.D.
“I always thought the military was cool,” he said. “I remember my dad taking me to air shows; I saw World War II planes and military vehicles. When I was in seventh grade, my older brother graduated high school and joined the Army, and that was right during the Gulf War. So I can remember watching TV and seeing all that going on in the Persian Gulf.”
His brother, Daniel, served with the Army’s 2nd Ranger battalion.
“I remember him coming home from leave and seeing him wearing jump boots in a black beret for a Ranger and I thought, ‘That was just the cat’s pajamas. That was the coolest thing ever,’” Reising said.
In August 1995, he enlisted in the Army for four years, rising from private to sergeant before being honorably discharged in August 1999.
He then went down the dual road of simultaneously pursuing his electrical engineering degree at the University of Cincinnati and enlisting in the Ohio Army National Guard, which brought him to North Dakota when 9/11 occurred.
That, eventually, led to his deployment overseas.
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After completing the second level of Army leadership school, Reising was promoted to staff sergeant and—in February 2003—he volunteered to join the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 371st Corps Support Group as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Force Protection Section of the Operations and Plans Section for service as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
This operation would be renamed Operation Iraqi Freedom during the unit’s deployment to Kuwait and Iraq.
During that deployment, Reising served as the operations battle captain, overseeing the construction of the first gun trucks and the associated concepts of operations, tactics, techniques and procedures.
His was an essential role in the logistics chain.
Reising quickly points out that he wasn’t on the front lines of combat, “dodging bullets and jumping over buildings and stuff.”
“That’s just not how it goes,” he said. “For every combat person out there doing the fighting, there are about 10 to 15 support troops making that person’s job possible. Every one of those soldiers does a critical job and is important to the mission.
“War fighters can’t fight without food, water and bullets. It doesn’t happen without logistics.”
He received more than a dozen awards and decorations, including the U.S. Army Meritorious Unit Citation, an award for exceptional service. “It’s a big accomplishment for a unit to be awarded,” he said, “and I’m very proud of that because—even though I was just one of 100-plus people in that unit—I knew that we contributed in some small way to the overall success of our mission.”
Following his return stateside, Reising was promoted to sergeant first class. He later assisted with the deployment of Ohio National Guard units to Louisiana and Mississippi in response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of those two states before being honorably discharged in November 2005.
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After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 2006, he went on to receive a master’s (2009) and Ph.D. (2012) in electrical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. While pursuing those degrees, he also served as an electronics engineer and researcher at the Air Force Aeronautical System Center (2006-2009) and the Air Force Research Laboratory Sensors Directorate (2009-2014).
In 2014, Reising came to UTC, filling a need for a faculty member interested in both teaching and research.
“I wanted the challenge of building something that didn’t exist before,” said Reising, whose research interests include digital communications and signal processing; Specific Emitter Identification (SEI) and Radio Frequency (RF) fingerprinting; next-generation communications systems; automation of smart grid electrical disturbance categorization, identification and learning; and the use of SEI, machine learning and signal processing in radiation effects characterization.
Dr. Abdelrahman Karrar, head of the UTC Department of Electrical Engineering, talked about Reising’s drive, determination and ability to make connections as keys to his research pursuits.
“Nothing holds him back from achieving what he sets out to achieve,” Karrar said. “He has a very stout resolution and a willingness to follow up and leave no stone unturned. If it requires talking to X number of people, he will talk to X number of people. If it requires going out to companies and networking with them, he will do it.
“He seeks information actively, pursues that information and makes sure that he gets the right information.”
Karrar cited relationships Reising has forged with—among others—the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Navy, the Air Force, TVA and EPB.
“And he has created excellent working relationships with new startups, became part of the Smart City initiative and is very actively involved with the SimCenter,” Karrar said. “He is very successful in building bridges and knowing the right people, and that has resulted in phenomenal success in his funding.”
Dr. Joanne Romagni, vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate School, laughed when asked if Reising should be referred to as a rising star in research—then confirmed the pun on his last name.
“He really is,” she said. “He’s been a phenomenal asset from the beginning.
“Don Reising is the first of our faculty who have been invited to submit a proposal for a Department of Energy center grant, which is a big deal; these normally go to big R01’s—the big research universities. He put in a white paper and the Department of Energy came back to him and asked him to do a pre-proposal—and he has now been asked to put in the full proposal, which is a huge deal. People at universities like ours don’t get those offers.”
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Dr. Daniel Pack, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, said Reising’s discipline and purpose is a direct result of his military background.
Pack would know, having spent 17 years as a faculty member for the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
“People like Don bring in that disciplined approach of teaching, training and all the other parts associated with educating individuals that he gathered from military training,” Pack said. “You find ways to accomplish the mission, and that translates into the work he does in the classroom and the research he does.
“In Don’s case, what he does for the students in the classroom day in and day out—along with mentoring and research—is transforming their career paths and life paths.”
Reising acknowledged that military training reverberates within him to this day, saying words of wisdom imparted to him from his days as active duty Army resonate in his work with students.
He shared the story of his promotion to sergeant and being allowed to select the person who pins stripes on his uniform. Reising chose Sgt. Eddie Greene for those honors, who he referred to as “one of the greatest people I’ve ever known.”
“During the ceremony,” Reising recalled, “Sgt. Greene said, ‘You’re a sergeant now; never forget where you came from. Never forget what it was like to be a private. Never forget what it was like to be the lowest guy on the totem pole.
“When I stand in that classroom interacting with my students, that inner Eddie Greene comes out. I always try to remember what it was like to be a student and how I wanted my professors to teach or treat me and interact with me. I always try to listen to them, take their input and feedback, and use that as a guide toward mutual respect.”
Hopefully, he said, that respect will be reciprocated.
“I consider it a privilege to be a teacher; it’s not something I think I’m entitled to,” he continued. “Just like I never felt that I was entitled to be a leader. I was privileged to be a leader.”