CRANE — Purdue University School of Mechanical Engineering alumni and faculty gathered at the Purdue University campus to celebrate the best and the brightest of their peers Sept. 10. Among them, Norman Thomas, Crane Army Ammunition Activity’s deputy to the commander, received recognition for his achievements for more than 38 years of working in ammunition, explosives and energetics at CAAA.
With more than 18,000 graduates of the School of Mechanical Engineering, being recognized as an Outstanding Mechanical Engineer by Purdue University is a feat for hardworking alumni of the program. Purdue recognized Thomas alongside a robotics engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a chief of engineering at the Air Force Research Laboratory and a vice president of business management at Shell Oil Company, among other alumni.
“For his tireless work to modernize munitions for all military branches and his oversight of one of the most dangerous manufacturing processes there is, Purdue is proud to give the Outstanding Mechanical Engineer award to Norman Thomas,” Jared Pike, Purdue University School of Mechanical Engineering communications specialist, said.
Thomas was surprised to learn that he was nominated for the Outstanding Mechanical Engineer award earlier this year.
“I’m humbled by this recognition, especially when I see the incredible projects that Purdue is working on,” Thomas said. “My career at Crane Army has given me the opportunity to excel, and this award is confirmation that I’m doing the right thing.”
Thomas began his Crane Army career as a project engineer, getting his hand in projects across the activity like gun ammunition, demilitarization, renovation, maintenance and pyrotechnics. Over time, he rose through the ranks and was eventually promoted to director of manufacturing and engineering. There he combined his experience with engineering and production processes to improve efficiencies on programs like aircraft countermeasure flares and add-on armor kits to better protect tactical vehicles from improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire.
Eventually, after serving as the chief of staff, Thomas took on the role of civilian executive assistant in 2010, the senior most civilian at CAAA. In this role he works as the civilian deputy to CAAA’s commander.
“It’s a privilege to work with and learn from a person recognized in the ammunition industry as a true subject matter expert,” Col. Santee Vasquez, commander of Crane Army, said. “Norm truly takes the welfare of CAAA to heart, and it shows in his energy and desire for us to be the best we can on a daily basis. I know that I will be a better leader and decision maker because of his mentoring and wisdom.”
Thomas has spent much of his time as deputy building partnerships with academia and defense industries to enable investments that can deliver munitions readiness to tomorrow’s warfighter. In the past few years, Thomas has been spearheading a partnership with the Purdue Energetics Research Center, working closely with professors of energetics and other industry experts in an effort to modernize the production of munitions over the next 15 years.
“We’re working on new technologies and bringing back some ammunition production from other countries to the U.S. to help secure our warfighter’s capabilities,” Thomas said. “We’re also working with Purdue to develop an energetics curriculum to help with creating the next generation of energetic engineers.”
Thomas’s alma mater recognized that such dedication to his craft, coupled with his strong engineering background and deep leadership experience, made him an ideal nominee for such a prestigious award.
“Norman sets the example of what Purdue mechanical engineers can achieve, and he pushes them to achieve even more,” Pike said.