CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Chief Warrant Officer 5 Brice Thomas thought once the war in Iraq came to an end, combat deployments would be a thing of the past for him given his 25 years in the Marine Corps, three combat tours and the drawdown in Afghanistan. But fate had a different plan.
Thomas arrived in Afghanistan in April after another Marine here redeployed on emergency leave. Though he wasn’t seeking his fourth deployment, Thomas was pleased. He knew the deployment would bring him closer to a Marine who had been in his prayers – his son Lance Cpl. Brice Thomas, II, who arrived in November to Camp Dwyer in Helmand province for a yearlong tour.
Thomas knew they would be stationed at different bases in Afghanistan, but found comfort in the fact they both would be able to serve together in Afghanistan. Marines often develop strong relationships during deployments, combat and training exercises. While he and his son already have a solid bond, he said the deployment will have same impact on them due to the shared understanding of adversity.
Thomas is very proud of Brice, who said he always knew he wanted to be a Marine like his father. Like other military children, he spent his life three years at a time changing schools, making new friends and living in different parts of the world. He said his father never pushed him to join the Marine Corps, but instead raised him to make his own decisions.
“He has made a decision to do something to stand on his own two feet and make his way in the world,” said Thomas. “Then there is the fact that his choice led him to be a Marine. The fact that I instilled in him enough of love of country and sense of duty to join the Marine Corps is a great source of pride and I could not be happier with his decisions to this point.”
Soon after graduating high school, Brice stood on the same yellow footprints his father did at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. He even enlisted as an embarkations specialist, just as his father had done 25 years before.
Having the same job, surprisingly, provided another twist of fate. In Afghanistan Brice indirectly works for his father. Thomas is a strategic mobility officer with the Regional Command (Southwest)’s logistics section. Brice is the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward)’s air logistics element noncommissioned officer in charge. Both play a role in the redeployment of forces.
“He’s not directly in my chain of command,” said Brice. “But I know if I screw up something, it’s dictated – I’ll get my butt handed to me both ways. As a Marine, I can’t use the ‘but, dad…’ excuse.”
Catrina Thomas, a proud Marine wife and mother, understands the complexities of deployments. This is her fourth deployment, as well. But, just like her husband, she couldn’t have seen this coming—two loved ones deployed at once.
When her husband informed her he was deploying on short notice, she couldn’t believe it. She thought the last of his Marine Corps years would be spent at home, but she could see this as a unique situation for the both of them.
“When [my husband] told me he was deploying on short notice, I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was done deploying,” she said. “But, I could see this as a unique situation for the both of them.”
Catrina doesn’t worry as much about Thomas on deployment, due to his experience, as she does her son. But, she finds peace knowing her husband and son are not far apart from each other.
During a recent trip to Camp Leatherneck to visit the camp’s education center, Thomas visited his father for a one-day reunion. The two caught up, discussing their deployment and joking with one another.
Brice said conversations with his father haven’t changed much since arriving in Afghanistan, other than the occasional talk of incoming sandstorms. Brice still jokes with his father and isn’t afraid to boast about his Marine Corps accomplishments. “I have a higher [Marine Corps Martial Arts Program] belt than my dad, so –” said Brice, before his dad interrupted.
“You know better. You’ll never be able to take the old man down,” Thomas replied.
Like his father, Brice loves the opportunity to be deployed with his dad. Brice said the moment the two shared before he stepped on the bus headed for Afghanistan was one of the most profound moments for him as a son.
“It’s simple and common,” said Brice, “but one thing that has stuck with me and I think will for the rest of the deployment is when he told me he loves me, he’s proud of me and for me to take care of myself. It’s had the most value to me out here.”