Top Air Force Public Affairs Director Cites CAP Cadet Start
Scouts, band, student council and football were regular activities for this young junior high student in Brandon, Florida. But he dreamed of something more -- something bigger than himself, where he could make a difference.
Ed Thomas, the son of a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, would soon discover Civil Air Patrol, setting him on a career path that has seen him ascend the ranks of the U.S. Air Force.
“I remember thinking it would be a great opportunity, as a junior high school student, to fly airplanes, learn air search and rescue and go to encampments,” said Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas, now the director of public affairs for Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
“To be able to join amazing people, do amazing things, go to amazing places and be part of a mission you believe in ... it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
The first step on his journey into a bigger world began with receiving his Air Force-style uniforms.
“The first time I ever wore Air Force blue was with the Civil Air Patrol,” Thomas recalled. “I was really excited to get my first set of uniforms. At the time, they were the dress blues and the green fatigue uniform.”
There was more to CAP than uniforms, too. He learned to march, and he also learned about air and ground emergency services, disaster relief efforts, homeland security, leadership, hard work and how to be part of a team and fly a Cessna 172.
“Ultimately, my favorite part was the camaraderie, the people, and the sense of mission,” Thomas said. “But being able to go up in an airplane and get the controls is one of the things I had a love for early on, and that love has never diminished.”
Another aspect of CAP that never diminished is the lessons he learned, like perseverance, being kind and treating people with dignity and respect, but also learning from mistakes and move forward.
“The same basic lessons I learned getting ready for a mission in Civil Air Patrol, marching in an encampment, setting up tents, going through an obstacle course or repelling off a 40-foot wall are a lot of the same lessons that still apply today,” Thomas said. “It was a true privilege to have that foretaste of the Air Force, to be able to wear Air Force blue, to be a part of an important mission.”
Reflecting on his time as a cadet, Thomas has advice for young cadets and those interesting in joining CAP today.
“It’s really important to put your heart into something and pursue excellence, because it’s easy in life to do half-measures and be mediocre. Pick a few things, and do them well,” he said. “Whether you are going to be an enlisted member or officer in the Air Force, apply yourself and do your best.”
Another analogy Thomas gives is thinking of opportunities as open doors and windows.
“When you are young, windows and doors are open. If you give your best and really seek excellence in all you do, those windows and doors will stay open for you as you get older,” he said. “But if you don’t give your best, those openings begin to close, and, by the time you’re in high school, a lot of them will be closed. It will be too late to pursue some hopes and dreams.”
Although retirement lies in the distant future, Thomas thinks it will be important to give back to the community -- maybe through CAP.
“Civil Air Patrol is one great place to be able to give back. You can invest in the next generation, perform the important search and -rescue missions,” he said. “It would give me the opportunity to fly again. That same youthful excitement of getting behind the stick doesn’t diminish, and I would love to be able to do that again.”