“It’s A True Calling to Serve People,” says U.S. Army Veteran and YMCA Exec Tony Kimbrough

I come from a long line of military service in my family. My grandfather and his brother were Command Sergeant Majors in the 101st and 82nd Airborne units, my dad a retired Army Major, and my aunt a retired Army colonel now teaching JROTC. So naturally, for college, I attended The Citadel, a senior military academy.

After college, I commissioned into the Army Reserves and was selected for Military Intelligence as my branch of service. Military Intelligence is a highly selective assignment, and very competitive. The Army only selects 200-250 officers a year. After completing officer basic course at Ft. Huachuca, I was eventually deployed to Afghanistan for an embedded training team mission with the 82nd Airborne.

At the time I was deployed, our mission was to help the Afghan government self-govern and build strong defense forces, the Afghan Army and police force. The embedded training teams were small units 12 soldiers’ team, who strategically lived in key villages throughout Afghanistan to train the army and the police. I was the head of the embedded training team for a year.

In some of the highest elevations in the world reaching 15,000 – 25,000 feet. Winters were cold and brutal. My team trained the police forces on combat action ⁠— how to set up ambushes and react to ambushes. We completed over 300 missions, some of which are still classified today. I received the Meritorious Service Award, and I brought all my guys back home.


I started my Y career at the YMCA of Great Pittsburgh as the Membership Development Executive helping to develop strategies around member retention and sales. My Y journey took me to the Tampa Metro Area YMCA, as the business development executive, before moving back to Atlanta.

Currently, I’m Executive Director of the East Lake Y, which entails membership operations, early learning and a teen center. We’re the original Purpose Built Communities model, so community leaders and partners come from all over to learn how the East Lake Purpose Built Community partners changed a community. There’s a ton of good work we do, and I get the privilege to help navigate the East Lake Y.


In the military, you just do it ⁠— it’s what you sign up to do. When I joined the Y, I had the same mentality. This is the right thing to do. It’s fulfilling. So, I’m going to go do it. But I’ve begun to see the impact we’ve made in all the YMCAs I’ve served. Sometimes you just go, go, go, and do, do, do. But every once in a while, you realize that something you’ve done has had a significant impact on the people you’re serving. It’s a true calling to serve people.

I think the more you’re in the Y, you truly gain an appreciation for all the Y has to offer ⁠— what it does in the community and for employees. The more you realize what the Y offers, the more you want to share it. It’s the fuel that drives the work we do each day.

Tony Kimbrough is an Army Veteran and Executive Director of the East Lake Family YMCA.