February 9, 2017
Last October at Our Military Kids, low donations were foretelling a bleak winter. For the first time in 12 years, OMK was having to cut its grant amounts for children’s activities. Then came a call from a man named “Al” which changed the entire landscape. Al is a service-disabled veteran, recently retired from an IT company he founded and led 25 years ago. Having moved to Myrtle Beach, SC, he now manages a trust he and his wife established, one dedicated to supporting military veterans.
After hearing on the news that OMK was in trouble, he called Executive Director Linda Davidson to lend a hand. Since the “season of giving” was approaching, and OMK was expecting an uptick in contributions, Al offered to match upcoming donations for up to $250,000. One stipulation was that he could remain anonymous for the duration of the campaign.
The campaign, named “Living Dunes” after one of his beachfront properties, ran for two months, attracting hundreds of donations, big and small. The result was $262,000 raised plus $250,000 matched, enough to pay for 1,025 grants for military kids, whose parents are deployed or recovering from severe injuries.
Today, Al is willing to let OMK share his story, to lift the veil on an unassuming personality who takes great pride in assisting military families. His full name is Al Nardslico, a donor who shares a personal connection to the people he helps. Not only was his dad a military man who received a 100 percent disability during the Korean Conflict, but Al, himself, injured his back and was partially disabled, while serving as a Data Systems Technician aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
After obtaining an honorable discharge from the Navy, Al took the job that he credits with propelling him into the IT world. In the 1980s, when there was a surge of interest in computer science after the advent of the personal computer, Al worked at the Applied Physics Lab of Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, MD.
“I was a lackey,” he said, describing his heady work with advanced technology and with researchers who were exploring the networking of PCs, Macs, and programs like “Windows 1.0,” which had just come out.
“I was very fortunate because they gave me latitude; they gave me the opportunity to work with some of the leading minds and the latest and greatest technology in the industry.”
After five years at the Applied Physics Lab, Al headed to upstate New York, where he completed a degree in Computer Science, and he started his company, Systems Made Simple, a systems engineering and software development firm. He said he was able to grow the company because of a 2006 executive order assisting disabled veterans.
“We built one of the largest service-disabled veteran businesses ever,” he said.
In 2014, he sold his company of over 1,000 employees to Lockheed Martin Company.
Now he and his wife, Terri, live in Myrtle Beach, where he has started a development company called Living Beach. Al, being technology minded, also started a company called “GigaTech Inc.,” which specializes in designing and building integrated homes. These are homes that have automation technology integrated on one platform. In other words, residents can use their computer tablets to control their sprinklers, security cameras, HVAC, doors, lights and even curtains.
His son, AJ, helps manage GigaTech, and his other son, William, after serving in the Air Force, is working toward a college degree in – no surprise – Computer Science, a degree that has received skyrocketing interest since 2010.
STEM is an acronym coined in 2001 to describe science, technology, engineering and math. It also incorporates computer science. How appropriate it is that, in the age of STEM, one of OMK’s most impactful grants came from a generous systems engineer?
“Our Military Kids noticed a marked increase in STEM grants in 2015,” said OMK’s Ms. Davidson.
“In fact that’s when several donors restricted their grants only to STEM activities for kids. They wanted to motivate kids to learn about STEM and, who knows, one day work for them or other technology firms.”
In 2016, more than 100 of OMK’s 4,010 grants went to military kids participating in STEM activities, like robotics club, little inventors’ camps, technology camps and tutoring.
Al Nardslico is a pioneer, who appreciates the benefit of having latitude to invent, explore and even tinker. He was given that kind of opportunity at the Applied Physics Lab decades ago, and today, he is paving the way for others. Partnering with OMK, he has reached children who, like him, have military parents serving their country, and, who, like him, have an interest in the world and promise of technology.
OMK and its grant families owe Al many thanks for his generosity and patriotic support.