The Decatur Daily
by Jason Lankford
Coordinating the deployment of 2,000 troops from three National Guard battalions is no small task, but for Col. Terry Thomas, it was just part of his duty to his country.
Thomas made sure the guardsmen were medically fit and in top condition before their 2004 deployment to the Persian Gulf, and stepped in to help soldiers’ families while their loved ones were overseas.
For his efforts, Thomas will receive the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award tonight during the Spirit of America Festival at Point Mallard.
After the guardsmen returned home after a year’s deployment, Thomas was preparing to retire after 29 years of military service. At the request of a friend serving in Kuwait, though, he volunteered to go overseas to coordinate communications in Kuwait and Bagdad.
“At some point you’ve got to look inside yourself and say, ‘You know, I sent 2,000 people over there, but I haven’t been myself,’ ” Thomas said. “It makes you feel better running into them on the street and they know you’ve been to the same places they have.”
Life in Iraq
Thomas said life in Iraq was far different than what he was used to, but some things were virtually the same.
“It was really interesting that there was a war going on, but you would see (families) out there working in a field just like you would see here in Alabama,” Thomas said.
“They were just going on with their lives. A few bad guys ruined it for everybody else.”
Thomas was born on Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, where his father was stationed. Like many children of military personnel, he moved around to different places, ultimately ending up in Texas, where he finished high school.
He started his military career in the Air Force in 1976. Ironically, he said, his first assignment was as a clerk in the same hospital where he was born. He transferred to the Army National Guard two years later, attending the Alabama Military Academy, where he became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps upon graduation.
Thomas became an administrative officer for the Alabama National Guard, serving in several posts in North Alabama.
During the 1980s, he coordinated warfare training at a military base in South Korea.
He earned several honors during his career, including the Silver Order of Mercury, the Signal Corps’ highest medal for officers.
The award that brought the most satisfaction, however, was the Alabama Commendation Medal he received for mobilizing National Guard members to help people who had lost power and water in Lauderdale County during an ice storm, he said.
“That one means a lot to me,” Thomas said. “It’s the things you do for your own community that really matter.”
Thomas retired in 2006, then asked himself, “What do I do now?”
He became a JROTC instructor at Albertville High School, providing students with an introduction to the military, offering guidance and being there to help resolve problems at home.
Thomas said he can relate to the challenges many students face.
“It’s hard being a kid in 10th grade and trying to figure out what you want to do with your life,” Thomas said.
“I’ve got years of life experience I can share with the young ones, and if it makes a difference in even one kid’s life, then it’s worth it.”