Ever since Staff Sgt. Todd Hering was a boy, he loved to take mechanical things apart.
"I always wanted to see how things were put together," Hering recalls.
As he grew up, he started learning how to use those parts to repair various electronics, like radios. Slowly but surely, he got good at it. While it was a simple hobby, it's hard not to see how those skills led him to become a mechanic in the Air Force.
And not just any mechanic — one who worked with all the components of nuclear warheads.
A 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron maintainer works on a Minuteman III ICBM, which is akin to the missiles Hering maintained. Photo by Senior Airman Brandon Valle/U.S. Air Force.
Handling all the inner workings of such dangerous weapons of war might sound terrifying to the average person, but Hering found it fascinating and even fun.
It's no wonder he ended up spending nine years working in the nuclear sect both in the States and oversees in Italy on a nuclear-tipped ground launch cruise missile.
Hering officially left the Air Force in 1993, when he got married, but his transition out of such an important military job was not the easiest.
He had no trouble finding two part-time jobs working for an airline, but it was a far cry from the responsibility he had before. He missed the high-profile work, but similar civilian jobs were hard to come by at the time.
Then a seemingly inconsequential accident led to a total lifestyle change. Hering stubbed his toe while walking around his house. Like anyone might have, he ignored the discomfort he felt — until the toe became badly infected.
When he finally saw a doctor, the infection had gotten so bad, it was in his bone. Todd had nine surgeries to try and save his foot, but in the end, the bone infection was so extensive, the doctors declared he needed to have his right leg amputated.
Photo via iStock.
Just like that, he was a veteran living on disability and a frequent visitor to the local Veterans Affairs (VA) office for medical aid and physical therapy.
During his downtime, Hering picked up his old hobby of making repairs on electronics. At first it was just for fun, but while he was at the VA, he began to realize there might be an unmet need for his skills.
He spoke to many vets on disability who were trying to turn their lives around but were down on their luck. Some mentioned how nice it would be to have a TV to pass the time — and that's when he got an idea of how he could help them.
"All these people just throw their flat-screen TVs away because it's a disposable world," Hering explains. "I thought, they're easy to fix, so I'll just start fixing them and donating them to some vets that need them."
He looked around for broken TVs that had just been thrown away. He also posted ads on Craigslist asking people to send him their old, broken TVs. Since he's a seasoned mechanic, he didn't need to spend a lot of money on replacing the motherboards; he just bought parts piecemeal and fixed the motherboards himself.
So far, Hering has repaired over 70 TVs for veterans. And while it's obviously making their lives better, it's fulfilling him in a big way, too.
Hering with one of the veterans who received one of his fixed TVs. Photo via Todd Hering, used with permission.
"This gives me a feeling of self-worth," says Hering. "I feel like I'm worth more than I was before because I'm helping other people."
He started this give back project over two years ago, and yet every time he gives a repaired TV to a deserving veteran, he's reminded that his work makes a real difference.
"One guy kept wiping his eyes, and said, 'That's the best picture I've seen in my life.'" Hering recalls. "It wasn't a big screen or anything; he was just so grateful to have one."
Hering presents a repaired TV to another veteran. Photo via Todd Hering, used with permission.
Hering has over 127 broken TVs in storage, so he's not planning on stopping his project anytime soon. In fact, he's looking to expand his reach to victims of domestic violence.
He recognizes that people in that situation sometimes have to leave everything they have behind. He hopes that by gifting them a TV, it'll give them some comfort.
That said, continuing this philanthropic mission is getting expensive for a veteran living off of disability pay. Even just buying small parts can involve hefty shipping fees or travel costs, so he now accepts donations to help maximize what he can do for fellow veterans.
When you're living with a disability and have barely enough money to pay for your basic needs, sometimes a little thing like a TV means the world. Hering understands that more than most.