JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Master Sgt. Cary Ann Thomas is known to some as the 628th Contracting Squadron’s contingency cell section chief; however, she is known by many as the kind-hearted, supportive jokester amongst her peers. She describes herself to be more sensitive than most people think, and feels her sensitivity helps to portray her as the kind of friend people naturally feel comfortable leaning on for support. She also believes herself to be a workaholic, as she feels it’s important to continually push herself to do even better, all with the cheers and support from her supervisor.
“If I could think of anything that motivates and inspires me, I would say second chances,” said Thomas. “I came into the military as a young Airman Basic, not knowing anything about life in general, and the military has proven to be an opportunistic career path. There have been several people I’ve met throughout my career who have molded and mentored me through these years, and so now, being in the position I’m in, I think it’s important for me to go back and help those younger Airmen. Like many people, I’ve weighed the pros and cons of staying in or getting out after twenty years, and every time I think I’ll get out I turn around and see my Airmen and think to myself ‘it’s not time for me to go, they still need me and I still need them’. That’s what drives me more than anything else.”
To further challenge and grow herself as an Airman, Thomas informed her leadership she was interested in the Chief Petty Officer Academy Course. The five-week course, located in Petaluma, California, serves as a replacement to the Air Force Senior NCO Academy to 36 chosen individuals. The course stresses leadership and teamwork during the transition from E-6 to E-7. For Air Force students, the class is an opportunity to learn about leadership and teamwork from their sister service’s viewpoint. According to the Chief Petty Officer Academy Course website, major themes of the course include professionalism, self-awareness, leadership, communication skills, strategic thinking, education and lifelong learning and health and wellness.
“I had the idea to at least put my name out there for the course without getting my hopes up,” said Thomas. “Knowing the Air Force only selects 36 people out of the entire Master Sgt. category, it was easy to assume little old me wouldn’t get selected, but I told my squadron, group and wing leadership about my idea and they supported me every step of the way. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I did. I’m extremely grateful to them for everything they did to guide and support me.”
Thomas’ class consisted of 72 other individuals, all of which she now describes as lifelong friends. Her class graduated from the course Feb. 28, 2020. Feeling grateful and blessed for the opportunities and friends she was given, Thomas said she didn’t expect her time to get any better, until her name was called on stage to be awarded the Spirit of the Chief Award, the Coast Guard’s equivalent to the John Levitow Award. Additionally, she was pinned and named an honorary chief of the Coast Guard prior to this recognition.
The Spirit of the Chief Award is given to the individual voted upon by classmates and instructors from the course. In Thomas’ case, that means 72 classmates and 13 instructors felt she was worthy of this recognition.
“I can’t answer why I was given this award but I hope it’s because my peers truly saw me for the person I am,” said Thomas. It’s a huge honor to have been awarded this, and has also given me a newfound sense of responsibility to ensure that I’m living these cores and values. Just a week and a half before graduation, my team pinned me as an honorary chief. I wear my pin tucked into my uniform every day to remind myself of the people who recognized me and to push me to be the person they felt was worthy of such honors. This course was unlike any academy or course I’ve ever taken and I’m so thankful for the memories and opportunities I’ve had with my classmates. I can confidently say we’ll all be friends for life because of it.”