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Home : News : News Features
NEWS | Jan. 20, 2017

North Carolina Guard member follows in family tradition; commits to a life of service

By Staff Sgt. Mary Junell North Carolina National Guard

RALEIGH, N,C. - Less than one percent of the American population serves in the United States Armed Forces, but for one North Carolina National Guard member, it is the only life he's ever known.

"Because of my family, this is all I've ever known. I don't really know what it would be like to be a civilian and have that type of commitment outside the commitment to this nation,"said North Carolina Army National Guard Capt. Timothy Thomas, who currently serves as the logistics officer for the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion. "So I read the statistics and I read that number and I honestly don't know what the rest of America is doing if they're not signing up to serve."

Thomas, who deployed to Iraq in 2009, is the fourth generation of his family to join the military, continuing a tradition that starts with his great-grandfather who initially joined the Army Air Corps, which later became the Air Force, and served in WWII and Korea. He retired as a Chief Master Sgt. after more than 26 years as a petroleum oils lubricants specialist.

Thomas's grandfather, William Thomas, continued the tradition by joining the Army as a warrant officer after the start of the Vietnam War.

"He joined the Army and went straight to flight school,"said Timothy Thomas. "He came out of flight school and two weeks later was in Vietnam and had a battlefield promotion to 1st Lt., completely skipping 2nd Lt. and that's his claim to fame, that he was never a butter bar [2nd Lt.]."

William Thomas retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1992 and over the course of his career was qualified to fly several aircraft, including the Huey helicopter and at one point, from 1979-1982, served as the active duty advisor to the unit where his grandson would later serve.

At the time, the 28th Attack Helicopter Company was transitioning to Cobra helicopters. They would later become the first reserve component to have Apache helicopters and be known as 1st Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment, and the unit the youngest Thomas has served in for the past 10 years.

"It's pretty neat that before I was born my grandpa advised the unit where I would later serve a larger portion of my military career,"Timothy Thomas said.

Thomas's father, Kelly Thomas, remembers his dad going off to Vietnam and the impact it had on him as a young man, leading him to also join the Army as an Aviator.

"I didn't understand what Vietnam was,"said Kelly Thomas, who has served in Grenada, Bosnia and Afghanistan. "I really didn't understand the war, but I understood the year, two years plus that he was gone and the team of teams that Army aviators have with all the infantry and all the ground forces. That was what really impressed me about being a tactical helicopter pilot, the respect those branches have on each other."

Kelly Thomas retired as a brigadier general in 2013 and like his father was qualified to fly several aircraft including the Cobra and Kiowa Warrior helicopters. He said he is proud that his son is the third in the line to become an Army aviator.

"I think the common theme with the three generations of aviators is that we fly something that shoots and that's what we all take very much pride in,"he said. "Our standard is that it has to hover and it has to have guns on it, besides that, we'll fly it. I think that's our proudest tradition."

When the youngest Thomas of the four generations qualified as an Apache pilot the two previous generations of Thomas pilots were there to congratulate him and pin his newly earned wings to his chest.

His father, Kelly Thomas, pinned on the wings, which were the same wings his father pinned onto him. Those wings had the date of all three generations of Thomas pilots on them.

"I'm very, very proud of him,"Kelly Thomas said of his son. "It really is a proud day." 

The newest Thomas said he could not remember one specific time that started him on his journey to join the service but that it was part of his everyday life.

"I just remember always seeing the uniform and thinking it was dad, even if it wasn't dad,"Timothy Thomas said. "I always thought that the Thomas is a military family and we understand that it's bigger than us and we're committed to serve. I think that is the understanding that we can serve and do our part because we know that it is bigger than us and we're just a small part of that puzzle, but it's a great feeling."