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    DEFENDER-Europe 21 final hurrah for Alabama National Guard Soldier

    DEFENDER-Europe 21 final hurrah for Alabama National Guard Soldier

    Photo By Sgt. Jaccob Hearn | (FARKE AIRFIELD, Albania) --- Staff Sgt. Willie Thomas, poses for a portrait while he...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Jaccob Hearn 

    131st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    (FARKE AIRFIELD, Albania) --- Staff Sgt. Willie Thomas, a supply sergeant with the 1-131st Aviation Regiment, has served in the Alabama National Guard for over 43 years and is 59-years-old. DEFENDER-Europe 21 will be his final “hoorah” with the guard before his retirement this year in December.
    “This is my last annual training (AT) with the battalion. I wanted to come on this to be with all my soldiers for one last time; my final hoorah, my going away,” said Thomas.
    Thomas, affectionately referred to as his first name by his command and Soldiers in Delta Company, has served in dual roles as a helicopter repairer and supply sergeant for most of his career. For 22 years he has also held a job in an Active Guard Reserve (AGR) position.
    “He’s been in the guard longer than I’ve been alive and almost three times as long as I’ve been in the army; it’s pretty impressive,” said Capt. Tierra Nelson, Delta Company commander with the 1-131st Aviation Regiment. “He’s been working in his position for so long that he has more experience in supply than anyone above or below him, including officers, warrant officers, property book officers or anyone in his field.”
    Even though his retirement is less than a year away, Thomas hasn’t slowed down. Since arriving in Albania for DEFENDER-Europe 21, he has worked hard along with the junior enlisted Soldiers he mentors.
    “To my younger soldiers today, I tell them, if I can do it at 59, they can do it too,” said Thomas.
    “He’s right, if he can do it, I can do it,” said Spc. Kayla Belser, a supply technician with Delta Company, in response to Thomas. She’s known Thomas since 2017 when she joined the unit.
    “He’s just awesome, he wants us to succeed,” continued Belser. “This mission would be very different without him, we’d be in the hole because he provides so much for us; whenever you call he’ll be there.”
    Since Thomas first enlisted in 1978 at 16-years-old, he has been on over two dozen ATs and four over-seas deployments. He says he’s enjoying Albania and glad that DEFENDER-Europe 21 can be his last mission.
    “Defender 21, it’s a nice mission,” said Thomas. “I was on the verge of getting ready to retire but this is a wonderful going away for me. The [Albanians] treat us like we’re one of them. It’s a nice, lovely country and everything over here has been going great.”
    Nelson said that Thomas was invaluable to Delta Company and she needed him on the DEFENDER-Europe 21 mission in Albania.
    “He’s basically the subject matter expert. He’s teaching all these kids, and we couldn’t afford to lose him,” said Nelson. “I can’t say this mission would fail without him, but it certainly couldn’t be as successful without him”
    Thomas thinks he’s had over 8 battalion commanders over the years; Lt. Col. Jeremy Chiglo will be his last. Chiglo has known Thomas for 15 years and was once his company commander.
    “Staff Sgt. Thomas is a tremendous Non-Commissioned Officer and an even better person,” said Chiglo. “He takes pride in supplying his company with everything they need and then some. I consider him a friend for life and wish him the best in all future endeavors.”
    “There’s not a thing that Willie Thomas won’t do for his Soldiers,” said Nelson. “If there’s something I need or we need to make the mission successful, and if Willie has anything to do with it, he’s going to make sure we have it and that we’re taken care of.”
    Thomas has these words of wisdom for his predecessors: “Stay in the military. This organization, especially the Alabama National Guard, is the way to be. It is the best way for younger Soldiers to learn and grow.”



    Date Taken: 05.20.2021
    Date Posted: 05.20.2021 14:24
    Story ID: 396948
    Location: FARKE, AL

    Web Views: 310
    Downloads: 1