The flowcharts and diagrams pinned to the bulletin board above Tim Corcoran
’s desk in the Information Technology
office look like drunken spider webs. As the university’s manager of network services, Corcoran’s responsible for keeping the threads straight so that students can connect to WiFi and faculty can utilize the instructional technology in their classrooms.
It’s intricate work that requires a tactical mind and expert project-management skills – all of which Corcoran learned and honed during his 32 years of military service, first in the U.S. Army and then the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
In recognition of his three-plus decades of “exceptionally meritorious service” to the nation, Corcoran recently received the prestigious Legion of Merit award from the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I never really expected the award. It’s a nice capstone to a long career,” says Corcoran, who enlisted in the Army out of Medford High School in 1975 and retired as master sergeant from the National Guard in 2016. In between, he earned a degree in economics from UMass Boston, stumbled into an IT career, started a family and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and Iraq in 2009. He also spent six “tough” weeks in New Orleans providing humanitarian relief and law enforcement following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I always enjoyed the work and the camaraderie, the feeling of having a mission and a purpose and giving something back,” says Corcoran, whose father fought in the Korean War. Fueled by childhood dreams of being a paratrooper, Corcoran joined the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., where he completed 48 jumps in four years of stateside service.
While in college on the GI Bill, Corcoran realized he missed the military lifestyle and decided to enlist in the National Guard’s 26th Infantry Division. He spent one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer training to “deploy to Europe to fight the Russians as part of the Cold War” and responding to natural disasters like tornadoes and flooding around the commonwealth.
Then came 9/11.
“That was a really dark day. It was a slap in the face to all of us in the military at the time, because it’s something that happened on our watch,” says Corcoran, whose missions suddenly broadened to fighting the global war on terror. Here at home, he was part of the armed security presence at Logan International Airport. In Iraq, he coordinated the training of more than 27,000 Iraqi police officers as they transitioned into their role as the first level of counterinsurgency force and community protection.
“Looking back, I enjoyed being in both Afghanistan and Iraq,” says Corcoran, who was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. “I thought we did some good things. Hopefully we contributed some good things for people.”
While Corcoran was always willing to answer the call of duty, he also had to worry about his family and career back home. After earning his economics degree in 1984, he went to work for the city of Boston in the budget office. Right around the time he started, he remembers, “a couple of pallets” of IBM computers arrived at the office, where they just sat in the corner for several weeks.
“One day, the budget director walked through the office,” Corcoran recalls “He kind of looked at me, looked at the pallets, looked at me and said, ‘Hey you, come here. You’re going to open these up and sort them out and figure out what’s going on with them.’
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” says Corcoran, who went on to join the private sector as a professional services engineer at 3Com Corp. The company downsized while he was in Iraq, however, and Corcoran returned home unemployed in 2010. He quickly found a job as a network engineer at Lowell General Hospital, where he worked until joining UML in 2014.
“I was proud to learn of Tim’s award,” says his boss, Assoc. Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Michael Cipriano
. “Together with his team, Tim does a tremendous job ensuring our complex campus data network meets the university’s demands.”
“It’s been a great move. It’s interesting work, and I’m surrounded by smart people,” says Corcoran, who lives in North Reading with his wife Pati. Their son, Tim, is an Army Ranger based in Fort Benning, Ga., and their daughter, Nenia, is a police officer in Lebanon, N.H.
After missing both kids’ high school graduations along with many other family events over the years while on active duty, Corcoran appreciates being home year-round now.
“But I do miss the service sometimes,” he says. “I miss the mission.”
Fortunately, Corcoran has plenty of complex network projects at work to help fill the void.