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Getting to know MCLB's voice

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

MCLB-ALBANY, Ga. -- After more than two years of serving as the public affairs officer for Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, 1st Lt. Caleb Eames left recently to continue his service in Okinawa, Japan.

The move allowed 2nd Lt. Kyle Thomas not only to take over as the installation's connection to the outside world, but to build on what his predecessor left behind.

Thomas, who officially took over as public affairs officer in March, joined the Marine Corps in 2001 after his graduation from Haughton High School in Haughton, La.

"I was 18 years old and looking for something new," he recalled. "I wanted to do something meaningful, and I wanted to give back.

"I wanted to be a Marine and serve my country."

Thomas enlisted in July of that year and left for Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. He graduated in October 2001, after which he reported to the School of Infantry.

The Marine admits he didn't know much about the Corps until his junior year in high school, during which time he participated in a field trip to Washington, D.C. It was during that trip he was able to visit Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia.

"This was my first exposure to the Marines," the lieutenant said. "We received briefs about what the Marines where. Being impressed with them outweighed the intimidation."

The son of two Bossier City School System teachers, Thomas lived on the outskirts of Shreveport, La., which allowed him to live both a rural and urban life.

"I got to experience the big city while going to school in a small town," he said.

One of the pluses to receiving an assignment in Albany was the weather, Thomas said.

"I was glad to come to a place where there is no snow," the public affairs officer quipped, referencing the snowfall in Southwest Georgia earlier this year.

There have been other things about the region that have appealed to him.

"Albany has been like a new home, and it became that very quickly," Thomas said. "I'm in a position to interact with the community. I can't believe I get paid to interact with the community."

The relationships he's fostered with those outside the base is something he says he takes seriously, because, he notes, there is not one person on the installation that doesn't have a story needing to be told.

"I worry whether I'm doing enough to let the community know they are important to the Marine Corps," the Marine said. "We have a phrase: 'Tactics is for the amateur, logistics is for the professional.' Without logistics, you have nothing; you have to have a plan to get things where you need."

It is the job of MCLB-Albany's public affairs office to tell the Marine Corps story by "sharing the courage."

"We try to get the word out," Thomas said. "Increasing awareness of different organizations that work on the base is the most difficult part of the job."

While mentioning that, Thomas re-emphasized the impact the community has on the base.

"We can always increase interaction with the community and tell people we appreciate what the community does," he said. "We need to get the word out, but we also need to let people know we are not separated from the community."

This is a mission that has touched individuals on the installation far beyond the personnel at the public affairs office.

"Marines are very eager to volunteer," Thomas said. "They are always asking if there is (an event) to help with, and the community is always looking for Marines to help.

"The community is very interested in what we do."

During his time here, Thomas said he plans to build on the connection already in place between the Marine base and the rest of Southwest Georgia.

"I'm looking forward to working more with the community and telling the community about what we do here, and also telling folks what the community does for the Marine Corps," he said. "We really like what we do here."

Since assuming his duties in Albany, another thing Thomas has noticed is that the people here tend to behave as if they have never met a stranger.

"They see you once and remember you," he said. "Everywhere I've been, the majority of people have been nice. Here, they want you to feel like you are one of them."

Upon completing the School of Infantry, Thomas joined his reserve unit in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in January 2002 -- his first of two deployments -- and worked primarily with base security. He was there six months before reporting to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to help out with base security for two months.

In 2004, Thomas' unit deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. While there, he and his unit participated in infantry operations at Al Ramadi, Fallujah and Hit while working with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance as well as the Army's 2nd Infantry divisions. He came home in May 2005.

In between those deployments, Thomas continued his pursuit of a college education. In 2008, he received a bachelor's degree in history from Louisiana State University Shreveport. Soon afterward, he was commissioned and reported to Basic School for a nine-month stint.

It was during his pursuit of a college degree that Thomas meet his wife Tarah, also a history major.

"We had a history class together, and one day I decided to say hi to her," the lieutenant recalled. "I thought there was no chance she would say yes."

The pair ended up interning at the same museum, where they were expected to give tours and lectures to roughly 900 people a week while still keeping up with their studies.

The couple married in September of last year and are preparing for the arrival of their first child -- a son -- in January.

"We were almost sure it was going to be a girl, but we went (to the doctor recently) and found out it was a boy," Thomas said. "We're excited.

"I joke around with her and say: 'He will look like you and act like me.' I will try to be the best father I can be, and I know she'll make a great mother."

Tarah Thomas has other plans for the future besides motherhood. She recently received her master's degree in history from Louisiana Tech University and has hopes of obtaining a doctorate in the subject and becoming a Civil War historian, her husband said.

After Basic School, Thomas attended the Public Affairs Qualification Course, Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Md.

When asked what had been the best and worst things about his career to this point, he highlighted some of the experiences from which he has learned the most.

"The Basic School was probably the hardest because I learned a lot about myself, and it changed my perspective on how to be responsible," Thomas said. "I learned what it was to be an officer.

"The best part of my career was receiving a commission. Getting a commission was my goal from the time I left boot camp. When I received it, it was a proud moment."

While reflecting on his career, Thomas said he has been grateful for the hard moments.

"That's when I've learned the most," he said. "It's been very humbling. They've made me realize how human I am.

"In the short time I've been here, I've had a trying time. The Marine Corps can't let you stay in a comfort zone, and that never stops. Those challenges will always be waiting."

During those moments, Thomas recalls some words of wisdom: "Never let yourself think you've got it figured out."

"That's part of what makes it meaningful," he said.