Tara Buckley from Chicago IL is a United States Air Force Vet and a recent graduate from Southeast Lineman Training Center in Trenton, Georgia. Tara served two tours as a Military Firefighter before getting struck by a drunk driver. After the accident, Tara was discharged from the military and spent the next ten years in therapy re-learning basic tasks. Tara talks about her recovery and her inspiration for where she is now. Keep scrolling to read her full story!
Divergent Alliance is honored to recognize Tara Buckley as our first female Hard Hat Hero. We know Tara will continue to break barriers for women in our industry, you are an inspiration, you are a Hard Hat Hero.
“Be human, respect everyone, & let people know they matter”
Tara Buckley from Chicago IL is a United States Air Force Vet and a recent graduate from Southeast Lineman Training Center in Trenton, Georgia. Tara’s father was in the Military, Tara never thought she would follow in her dad’s footsteps but after she graduated high school at 18, she decided to join the United States Air Force where she served two tours as a Military Firefighter. In Tara’s 7th year of the Air Force, she came home from her deployment in Iraq and was struck by a drunk driver and suffered a severe frontal lobe injury. Since then, Tara had spent 10 years in therapy from 2005 to 2015 re-learning basic tasks.
On Tara’s 3rd day of being home from Iraq, the only thing she can recall is a green light, and then headlights. Because of the severe trauma to the head, Tara is not able to recall anything for an entire year before the accident, and an entire year after the accident. People have had to tell Tara about everything that occurred within that block of time just for her to have any recollection of events. Tara states that there is no way she can bring back any of those memories that occurred within that two-to-three-year period. The accident caused her to suffer from a severe left frontal lobe injury, along with the left side of her body being crushed by the vehicle that hit her. She had some problems with her hips shortly after, but the head injury was the most severe of them all.
Tara said the experience of being hit by a drunk driver was surreal because, in Iraq, they were shot at and bombed daily, and when you get back to your home soil and think everything is safe, something like this happens. Doctors told Tara that she would never run again, and it would take a long time before her reading or pronunciation was close to normal. Tara knew her life was forever going to be changed in 2005, and the hardest part was not knowing what physical or mental abilities she would have in the future. Tara was extremely disappointed when she was discharged form the Military in 2006. She always envisioned herself being in the military for over 20 years because she loved serving her country. It took about 2 years for all the swelling in Tara’s brain to dissipate, and at this point, doctors could finally assess the damage done. Once Tara’s brain swelling was gone, she attended therapy 5 days a week, consisting of speech therapy, cognitive therapy, and physical therapy. She had a very difficult time completing the most basic of tasks.
Before the accident, Tara was extremely athletic, active, and physically fit to handle any task of a Military Firefighter. Three days after returning from Iraq, her abilities were taken away by a drunk driver and doctors said she would never return to normal. Up until Tara attended Southeast Lineman Training Center, her mental and emotional recovery was a struggle. She said there was always a battle with one of the five stages of grief, never really conquering one, but always shifting between those stages. Tara says she never really accepted her story or what she went through until she had a chance to share it online with the SLTC media team.
There was always a lot of fear that people would judge because of what she went through. There was fear that people would look at her funny, would not understand, and a fear that no one would hire her because she had an injury. Tara’s biggest fear overall was just accepting her new self. Ever since the accident, Tara’s nickname has been “Girl In Progress,” because she is always progressing and never quit on herself. This mentality has helped Tara feel and become even better than she was before the accident occurred. Even aspiring to be a better human being, she is grateful for more and treats everyone the way she wants to be treated.
After ten years of therapy, it was time to try something new. Tara was exploring what she was going to do next when her dad suggested she learn to drive trucks. He was a semi-truck driver for a long time and encouraged her to get her CDL since she enjoyed driving. Tara went for driver training in Chicago, received her CDL, and joined a company called Schneider shortly after. She remained a driver for about 6 months and then moved over to the training department to become an instructor. Tara says the hardest part about driving a truck is when you are a social person, it is very hard to be by yourself for long periods of time in the truck. She remained an instructor for the next 5 years and says that the trucking industry pushed her in such a way to experience a tremendous amount of growth recovering from her injury. Tara says that when you love something, your brain hangs onto it, and because she loved the logistics of how things worked in the trucking industry, she was able to retain a lot of information and experience a lot of growth because of it.
At the beginning of 2019, Tara started to feel an itch that she wanted more out of life. At the time, she was not quite sure what that meant, so she kept her eyes open for any signs that might show her what the next challenge would be. Tara was browsing LinkedIn one night and came across the Georgia Power page showcasing a woman by the name of Heidi Wease. At the time, Heidi was an apprentice lineman for Georgia Power, and seeing her interview was an immediate inspiration for the challenge that Tara was about to take on. Tara states that if you do not know anything about Heidi, she is phenomenal, and an inspiration. Tara explains she would love the opportunity to meet Heidi and thank her someday for being her inspiration for jumping into this industry.
After seeing Heidi’s video, Tara started to do some research on how to become a lineman, she searched schools and found out as much as she could about each program. During her research Tara came across the school, Southeast Lineman Training Center. It was important for Tara to find a school that was accepting and familiar with working with females. She was immediately impressed when she saw that SLTC held an all-women rodeo team. This was the motivation she needed to pick the perfect school for her. Tara hopes the industry will continue to showcase people like her, Heidi, and other females in the industry with the hopes it will encourage more women to get involved in this male-dominated industry. Tara says that people like Heidi are the first step for inspiring women and Tara hopes that someday she can become that step for another woman.
Tara ended up getting accepted to Southeast Lineman Training Center and soon after getting accepted, she suffered a knee injury that required surgery to correct. Tara had knee surgery on May 25th and climbed her first pole a little over three months after on September 5th. All the years of carrying gear as a military firefighter combined with a strict workout regimen for a long time eventually led to a patellar tear in her knee. Right after surgery, the knee doctors recommended that Tara take about 2 weeks off for recovery, but she insisted to get into physical therapy right away. Tara attended physical therapy 6 days a week and worked out as much as possible to get as physically fit as she could before starting at Southeast Lineman Training Center. Tara states that she always felt it was important to be strong and stay fit because she never wanted to be a safety hazard to herself or the people around her.
Tara explains that she loves being a part of a team and loves the constant communication and feedback involved in teamwork. Teamwork has been a major component in everything Tara has done in life to this point, and she wants to ensure it remains a huge part of her life. She found that in linework teamwork is extremely important. At SLTC, Tara says that the bonds created were so great that she can call anyone from her class and knows they would be there for her if she needed it. Tara says she would absolutely do the same for anyone else if they needed it too. Tara says she is driven by people and wants to help create that close family-like culture with whoever she is around.
Tara mentioned she would not do a damn thing differently. Even when it comes to the accident, she never would have taken this path if it didn’t happen, so she is grateful that it did. Tara Buckley is the first female veteran to come through the ranks of Southeast Lineman Training Center, the first female recipient of the Woodwalker award, which has been given out for the last 20 years of the training centers existence, and now the first female Hard Hat Hero honored by Divergent Alliance. Tara says that entering a new career, giving up a nice salary, and entering the program at Southeast Lineman Training Center, she had everything to lose, but at the same time had everything to gain. A lot of her motivation and drive comes from the accident she was in. Everything taken from Tara was out of her control and staying driven is a way to start regaining control again.
Every single day after the accident for 10 years was Tara’s hardest day. She worked mentally and physically as much as she could handle just to regain what she had lost. Her hardest day has nothing to do with any job or task she has ever done, but every day was the hardest just getting back to here. Tara is very grounded in her faith and says that she wouldn’t be here if God didn’t allow her to be. Because of this, Tara refuses to waste a single day given to her. After seeing Heidi Wease on the LinkedIn video in 2018, Tara realized at that moment that she did not want to waste her life and that it was time to pursue more.
“Serving my country was by far the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” Tara promises that what she has done and what she will continue to do for females and veterans will exponentially be more impactful than what she was able to do by serving her country.
During Tara’s time throughout therapy from 2005 to 2015, she had a service dog that remained by her side, helping her through everyday struggles. Right before she started in the trucking industry, the service dog fell ill and passed away. Tara took it as a sign that it was the dog telling her that it’s time to move onto something else in life. In memory of her service dog, Tara started a foundation called The AceBoy Foundation. Through The AceBoy Foundation, Tara donates to animals or people that have animals every year out of her pocket. Every year she picks up to 4 organizations to donate to and says it’s just part of being a good human and paying it forward. Tara says this is the least she can do to repay her dog for the 10 years of service it gave to her. This is something she is extremely passionate about and that it is a promise she will always keep.
Divergent Alliance’s Hard Hat Hero series is sponsored by Safeguard Equipment and Klein Tools. Safeguard Equipment provides our hard hat heroes with a compass personal voltage and current detector to keep our heroes safe on the job. Klein Tools provides our heroes with a hat, polo, t-shirt, lineman wrench, pliers, and a custom printed canvas bag with our hard hat hero logo and our hard hat heroes’ name. We are incredibly honored to have amazing companies in the industry sponsoring our hard hat hero series.
Divergent Alliance is a utility tooling supplier, we are passionate about providing lineman tools and equipment to the utility industry. We supply lineman equipment from some of the top-rated brands in the industry such as Klein Tools, Safewaze, Buckingham Buck, Salisbury, Greenlee, and more.