Footsteps in the sand
July 14, 2011
VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq " Despite the strains military life can cause on Families, being Soldiers has proven to be a common denominator that improved the relationship of one father and son pair serving in Iraq.
“We had the typical father and son relationship,” said 1st Sgt. Patrick Thomas. “But in advanced individual training, he started questioning if he could do this, and I would talk to him and work with him, and from that we started getting closer and closer.”
“It was different growing up,” said Pfc. Tyler Thomas. “We didn’t have much of a Family life because he was probably deployed every year and a half. Looking back, it seems like he was gone more than he was home, on either a deployment or just being at work before I woke up.”
Now, Patrick, senior noncommissioned officer in charge of Company A, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Advise and Assist Task Force, 1st Infantry Division, and Tyler, a multi-channel transmissions systems operator with 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade, have reunited and become closer as NCO and Soldier, and as father and son, while the two serve in support of Operation New Dawn.
The son of a retired command sergeant major, Patrick enlisted as an infantryman and, after completing basic and advanced individual training, attended airborne school. His first assignment was with Company A, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, N.C., with whom he deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield.
The Mobile, Ala., native said he credits his father for being the Soldier he has become and hopes to influence Tyler in the same way.
“When I was younger, if I was doing something wrong or messed up, as my dad he would talk to me. If it came to me getting hemmed up and my sergeant major called him, my dad would say he didn’t care because the standards are the standards,” said Patrick. “And I treat Tyler the same way. You have to teach him to be a Soldier, and that’s something my dad did for me growing up in the Army.”
“There’s a level of professionalism we keep,” said Tyler. “Just like any other NCO, he’s not my dad when I’m wearing my rank and he’s wearing his.”
Patrick said, as a Soldier, that is how Tyler learns, and that is how he will build himself to be a better leader. Being there to help also provides Tyler a slight advantage to make better decisions, and Patrick said his son knows that he will be there for guidance.
“(Being a Soldier) has definitely helped my relationship with my dad,” said Tyler. “I wasn’t making the best decisions, and I probably didn’t live up to his expectations, but I can say after I graduated basic training, it’s continued getting better.”
Building on common threads as Soldiers, Tyler also began his service at Fort Bragg, and deployed to Iraq within six months, following the same path his father set out on 20 years earlier.
Patrick said he shares a series of interesting and unique experiences with Tyler.
“In October 1990 I deployed for the first time in support of Desert Shield/ Desert Storm,” said Patrick. “I remember that Christmas Eve, I came off guard duty and the phones were open to call home. So I called my wife, and her dad said she was in the hospital having my son.”
“I told Tyler on his 20th birthday, last December, that it’s crazy because he will turn 21 here,” he said. “I was here all those years ago when he was born. Now he’s here, helping to close out what I started.”
Although Patrick makes it clear to Tyler that he is bound to fulfill his duties as a Soldier, he said he has not taken for granted the moments the two have shared so far.
“I went to his basic training graduation from Fort Gordon. It brought a tear to my eye, especially seeing him as a father,” he recalled. “You think, ‘Is he going to do good? Did we do everything we could as parents?’”
Patrick added that seeing Tyler on the parade field in his uniform and beret during graduation made him very proud as a father.
“I can’t measure how proud I am of Tyler,” he said. “I’m ecstatic he’s done something with himself. Will he ever know how proud I am? Oh yeah, he gets tired of me telling him.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my dad, it’s that it takes years to build a reputation and a day to mess it up,” said Tyler. “There’s a continuous proud moment of knowing how much he has accomplished, how hard he’s worked, and how many crazy things he’s done that no one but his little group will ever know about.”