By Jesse Drake
Clarke Headlee, account executive in Network and Communications Infrastructure (NCI), is a perfect example of the power that nature and nurture play in our lives.
A talented athlete
A high-energy guy, by the time Headlee entered high school in Aurora, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, he was active in football, wrestling, track and basketball.
Headlee loomed over other basketball players, tall enough to dunk from the time he was a freshman. The coach, however, was “old school and didn’t tolerate dunking,” he said.
So much for basketball – but not for long.
Headlee was born in Utah and adopted as an infant. His new parents, Doug and Mary Headlee, raised him in Novi, Michigan, outside of Detroit.
“I didn’t know much about my biological family, so I did what curious people do – I went online,” he said. “I found a random post by my biological dad’s parents who were looking for me, and we got linked up.”
The reunion shed perhaps some light on his prowess in sports. Headlee’s biological father, Herb Jones, played basketball for the University of Montana alongside then-teammate and now-University of Utah head basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak. Tragically, Headlee's father died in an automobile accident while attending college, heading back to school after visiting Utah.
His curiosity piqued, Headlee sent an email to Krystkowiak, who was coaching the New Jersey Nets. He didn’t expect a reply but Krystkowiak emailed right back and filled him in about his father.
"Herb Jones was an amazing athlete," Krystkowiak said. "I once saw a sign at a Grizzly game that said, 'Larry is our bread and butter but Herb is our Jam.' Great dude and still missed."
The Tripler years
Headlee worked for a year after high school before enrolling at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (Mich.). Then the Iraq War began. One of his friends, a paratrooper, called him up.
"He said, 'I'm about to be on the flight line. We're getting on a plane and we're going to jump into Saddam International Airport," Headlee said.
Headlee went straight to an Army recruiting station. He wanted Infantry, but the recruiters steered him towards combat medic.
"They said it's cool, I'd be with infantry. Every infantry platoon has a medic," he said. "I distinctly remember them assuring me I wouldn't be in a hospital."
Hello, Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC).
Headlee flew through medic school, graduating 13th out of 340 in his class, and expected to be shipped off to V Corps in Germany, from which soldiers were being funneled into Iraq. But it didn't take long to realize Honolulu was a pretty sweet assignment.
“I was hard-charging and ready to roll, but I got to Hawaii and was like, well, you know, the beaches are cool," Headlee said, chuckling. "I only kind of wished I was in a line unit for about a month or two."
Headlee, EMT-B, was placed in Antepartum OB/GYN, in the neonatal intensive care unit caring for babies born prematurely. He worked nights in an emergency room-like environment.
“I liked trauma work, having to act, and it was very rewarding,” he said. “You see the big smiles and know you made a difference.”
Tripler is a big and busy place; it’s the largest military hospital in the Pacific Basin and serves a military jurisdiction encompassing 52 percent of the earth's surface. And of course there was the TAMC basketball team.
This time, he could dunk.
"Our team was sick. We were the best team on the island, and there's a lot of military on the island – Army, Navy, Marines ..." Headlee said, noting that while they'd scrimmage other branches, bragging rights spawned from the Army tournament they'd win every year. "I'll put it his way. Unit commanders take a lot of pride in three things: The discipline of their units, their basketball team, and kind of their softball team."
In addition to developing a good name on the court, Headlee was hard-charging up the ranks. He became assistant to and eventually replaced the non-commissioned officer in charge of the neonatal unit, running non-medical operations from budgets and payroll to hiring and supplies. By 2006, he had been promoted to sergeant, earning the rank as fast as possible by statute – two and a half years instead of the standard five.
But at what many consider a high-point in a military career, Headlee decided to leave.
"I had island fever," he said. "You can never go more than an hour in one direction and I missed the seasons. It was the same perfect, beautiful day every day. I know that sounds weird but I was just ready to go."
A natural with technology
Back on the mainland, Headlee studied business administration at Kent State University for two years before leaving to work. He was 24 by then, paying his way, not into the college party scene and uncertain about a degree he described as “not knowing what I want to do but knowing I wanted to go to college.”
Headlee went to work with his dad and brothers, starting a business called 21st Century Technology/New Star Communications in Las Vegas, selling Dishnet, DirectTV and Clear, the first 4G mobile broadband card.
Headlee isn't a man afraid to get into a TV main board with a soldering iron or making his own PCs.
"I was always a techie guy, really a jack-of-all-trades," he said. "If someone needed a car fixed, same with electronics, I've always been into tearing something down, rebuilding it and making it work.”
In 2009, the U.S. was still reeling from the financial crisis. Vegas, in particular was hit hard – its housing bubble popped and people were failing credit checks, causing most elements of Headlee’s business to close shop. Returning to Michigan, he subsisted on sales and odd jobs until, in 2012, he headed back to school. This time he studied information technology with a web development focus at Central Michigan University, graduating in 2015.
Michigan’s economy wasn’t faring better than Nevada’s, so Headlee packed up his Ford Focus and headed west once more, to Utah, where he was guaranteed the support of family... and a special friend from his past. Lo and behold, Krystkowiak was coaching the Utes men's basketball team. Headlee paid a visit to Krystkowiak's office and the two caught up.
His first job at the U was as an IT Specialist, working as field phone tech, and this past December, he moved into his current position.
As account executive/facilities coordinator, Headlee acts as a coordination point between customers and various UIT service providers, specifically NCI and the Network Operations Center. He handles complex orders, attends owner-architect construction meetings, and helps ready new buildings on campus for services – from phones to fiber pathways.
In his spare time, Headlee enjoys skiing, snowboarding, maintaining cars, off-roading in his Jeep Wrangler, and planning his next big adventure.