MAJ. GEN. Kathy E. Thomas of Durango, Colo., will speak Friday at this year's Veterans Day event at the El Dorado County Veterans Memorial in Placerville. Retired, she is wearing the Navy flight jacket of her late father, who lived in Placerville. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum

MAJ. GEN. Kathy E. Thomas of Durango, Colo., will speak Friday at this year's Veterans Day event at the El Dorado County Veterans Memorial in Placerville. Retired, she is wearing the Navy flight jacket of her late father, who lived in Placerville. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum


Retired general has local connection

By From page A1 | November 11, 2011

A dynamic woman who had a stellar career in the United States Air Force will be the keynote speaker at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Monument, 360 Fair Lane, Placerville on Veterans Day, Friday Nov. 11.

USAF Maj. Gen. (Retired) Kathy E. Thomas’ inspired words will highlight the annual uplifting and patriotic program planned by the Friends of the Veterans Monument. Though she lives in Colorado her parents moved to Placerville 26 years ago.

“Honor and duty are alive and well in the United States armed forces,” said Thomas, 63. “I had the pleasure of serving with some of the best and brightest young Americans our nation has ever produced. Our service men and women continue to be dedicated to protecting our safety and our freedoms.”

Thomas’ brief comments will honor all the men and women who serve their country, as well as our community’s families who have supported both our troops and their military families.

“It is this community outreach that serves to express our appreciation to all service members,” said Thomas.

Thomas’ words come from an accomplished woman who comes from a family of patriots. Her parents, the late Preston G. Thomas, a retired Navy  lieutenant commander, and Julie E. Thomas, have lived in El Dorado County for some 26 years. They both served in the US Navy during World War II, where they met and married.

More importantly, they raised Kathy, her brother and her sister in a loving environment that fostered integrity and commitment. Good values are the cornerstone of Maj. Gen. Thomas’ philosophy. But she is a fun-loving, down-to-earth woman who ultimately earned two stars in the Air Force.

“Yes, I am a major general. But that is what I did. It is not who I am. A four-star general once told me the two most important things in life are your reputation and family. And character is measured by the extent you will fight to keep both family and reputation intact,” Thomas said.

Thomas was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1972 and attained the rank of a major general in 2002. During her first duty station at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Thomas was one of the last Woman Air Force (WAF) squadron commanders in Strategic Air Command. She helped write the plan to completely integrate women in the Air Force.

While stationed in Thailand, Lt. Thomas supported the rescue of the merchant ship SS Mayaguez, and as the wing commander’s executive officer she was involved in the resettlement of evacuees following the evacuations of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Saigon, Vietnam.

Her career has been varied: She has served as an interrogator, escape and evasion instructor, and Latin American specialist, serving extended tours of duty with U.S. Southern Command. In 1995, she retrained into the space career field as was assigned to the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Some of the general’s award and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, a Meritorious Service Award with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with three oak clusters and Air Force Organizational Award with oak leaf cluster.

In addition, Thomas was among the Outstanding Young Women of America in 1982. In 1990, she was named Outstanding Intelligence Officer IMA of the Year, Pacific Region and Reserve Outstanding IMA of the Year, Pentagon and Washington, D.C., area. In 2000, Thomas became a Life Member in American Veterans and in 2002 she won the prestigious National Leadership Award for Women in Aerospace.

Among the Women of Distinction, Soroptimist International of the Americas of Camelback Inc. in 2002, Maj. Gen. Thomas was also awarded the Lifetime Membership Award from the Girl Scouts of America, an organization she continues to champion.

When Maj. Gen. Thomas was asked if she flew an airplane in the Air Force, she answered with a smile, saying that she “flew” satellites. Much of her career was devoted to intelligence and the military space program.

After graduating from high school, Thomas took only three years to obtain her Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from California Western University. An Air Force career had not been a lifelong dream, but it became her calling. She was teaching school in Thailand when she was recruited in the Air Force.

Thomas is also an endurance bicyclist raising money for national charities; and she won her first triathlon in her age division this past weekend in San Francisco.

For her interview and photos, she proudly wore her father’s WWII flight jacket.

“An encouraging, supportive family is instrumental in setting a good foundation,” Thomas said. “I have been around very talented and high-principled young people, and most of them, too, have had the advantage of strong support from a parent, a teacher, a coach or in some cases, a veteran.”

“I joined the armed services because I was attracted to its core values. Speaking and being with fellow veterans on Friday is truly an honor. ” She is optimistic that “our young people and close communities combined with dedicated armed forces and devoted veterans upholding American values, will ensure our nation’s future.”

After her remarks, the general who was instrumental in integrating women into the Air Force will sign the Oath of Office placing Ensign Kelly Harkins on active duty in the U.S. Navy. It is the final document that will allow her (Harkins) to enter the U.S. Naval Flight School in Pensacola, Fla.

E-mail the correspondent at [email protected]

Susana Carey Wey

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