Sgt. Maj. Richard G. Thomas, Regiment Operations Sergeant Major, was born in Port Maria, Jamaica. He is retiring after almost 30 years of service.
“My work ethic from my parents was if you want something, you have to work at it,” said Thomas.
At the age of 15 his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City.
Soon thereafter, Thomas’ parents bought a home in New Jersey, and he attended the famous Patterson New Jersey East Side High, featured in the 1989 film “Lean on Me” staring Morgan Freeman.
Thomas said the biggest transition from his childhood home to the United States was the fast pace of a major metropolitan area like New York City.
After graduating high school, Thomas spent two years at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fl. Finding the tuition too expensive, Thomas decided to enlist in the U.S. Army as Military Occupational Specialty 11B, Infantryman.
“As a lad, I saw that I liked Soldiering,” said Thomas. “My grandparents usually resided right next to a camp, which in Jamaica would be like a reserve-type unit. There were always Soldiers training.”
While the close proximity experience piqued his interest, initially Thomas’ goal was to join for a few years and use the educational benefits. Thomas did not see himself as a career Soldier.
During that first enlistment, the Gulf War interrupted those plans.
“I never envisioned myself as a career Soldier,” said Thomas. “I just wanted to be a patriot, join the Army, get the college fund GI bill and go back to school,” said Thomas. “But after I saw it wasn’t a bad profession, I decided to do the long haul.”
“I decided to stay in, went to the war, came back, and pursue it as a career from that point,” said Thomas.
Twenty-nine years and three months later, Thomas is ready to begin a new chapter in his life.
Thomas said the biggest change he’s seen in the Army is how hazing has been cut out of daily operations.
When a Soldier made a mistake previously, he’d be dealt with by performing seemingly endless amounts of physical training to refocus the Soldier. Now Soldiers are counseled on paper and developed professionally, said Thomas.
Thomas has served as a Team and Squad Leader, a Platoon Sergeant, and as a Sergeant Major of the Inspector General and Operations.
Ten years of the almost 30 years of Thomas’ career was spent in The Old Guard.
“Its overwhelming just to be apart of this historic unit,” said Thomas. “At one point I never dreamt I’d try out for The Old Guard at all.”
A position at The Old Guard is very prestigious, said Thomas.
“The job we do here as an Old Guard Soldier is a privilege,” said Thomas. This is a unique opportunity because it is a nominative position, said Thomas.
He was first assigned here in 1998-2000. He was Platoon Sergeant of Echo Company and Honor Guard before moving onto the U.S. Army Drill Team (USADT) as the Senior Drill Master.
Thomas also served in Operation Nobel Eagle as a security force for the Pentagon Crash site on 9/11.
“It changed me a lot,” said Thomas. The experience of helping clear debris from the Pentagon gave Thomas an appreciation that one cannot take anything for granted.
In an instant someone can pass away in a crash like 9/11 or be someone that leaves The Old Guard and only returns when buried in Arlington National Cemetery, said Thomas.
As a member of the USADT, Thomas performed in two Fiesta Bowls and a Presidential Inauguration in 2000. He calls his time in the USADT one of his greatest accomplishments because he was an ambassador for the Army.
In 2005, he returned to be Charlie Co., While at Charlie Co. Thomas was featured in the book “Where Valor Rests” by Rick Atkinson of the National Geographic magazine. Thomas served at Charlie Co. as First Sergeant. He would go onto be First Sergeant at Honor Guard and Headquarters and Headquarters Command.
After that assignment Thomas was selected to be a Sergeant Major.
In 2008, he returned to finish his career.
“My greatest contribution is to see the unit standard maintained from my predecessors,” said Thomas.
“The Old Guard is like this: you have to be mentally, physically, and morally straight,” said Thomas.
Thomas’ future plans are seeing his sons graduate from school. One is a defensive end at Division I AA James Madison University; the other is completing high school and hopes to enter West Point Military Academy.
Leaving the military will also allow him to spend more quality time with his wife of 24 years, Robin, said Thomas.
“Its a bittersweet day,” said Thomas. “That beyond the horizon, I’m riding off into the sunset, and continue to see this unit flourish and the Army continue to grow. And with anything there is a transformation. There is a start and an ending, this is just a culmination of my blessed career in the Army, and apart of The Old Guard.”