America's Best: SSG Michael D. Thomas' Memorial Service 10 May 2007




At 10 am on May 10, 2007 the US Army Special Forces (SF) Community of Fort Bragg assembled in the JFK Special Warfare Chapel for a memorial service to a fallen comrade, warrior and patriot—Staff Sergeant (SSG) Michael D. Thomas, of Seffner, Florida. Pam and I attended with others from Berean to express our deepest condolence to Teresa and Craig Thomas, members of Berean’s Spanish Church led by Rick Montes. For those of you unable to attend the memorial service, go with me now to JFK Chapel.

The chapel is small with a single row of pews on the left side and a single row on the right side. The carpet is green like the color of a Special Forces Soldier’s beret. The windows are stained glass with scenes of soldiers and battles of yesterday and before. Each window has a caption from God’s Holy Word. “The Lord is my Shepherd” was on the window to my left side as Pam and I sat among three pews of wives whose husbands are presently in Afghanistan—the theater of operations where SSG Thomas heroically gave his life in protection of his teammates. The walls are lined with plaques identifying fallen rangers and SF soldiers from the present conflict and previous battles. A wooden cutout of a Soldier with a weapon kneeling in pray is hung on the left side of the front wall. There is standing room only and most are dressed in the Army Combat Uniform; the ushers and speakers are dressed in the dress green uniform with black paratrooper boots. The front pews are empty waiting for those who are grieving together is small fellowship room adjacent to the chapel.

Down the center isle on the stage is a single pair of black jump boots, an M4 Carbine turned upside down, a set of silver identification tags hangs from the pistol grip and a green beret rested on the buttstock of the weapon with the Special Forces crest facing all those in attendance. A wife is moving about handing out small packages of Kleenex in anticipation of the tears that will be shed by all. I search for my handkerchief.

Kim Usher, from Northview Baptist, is playing the piano softly in the background. At 2 minutes out, a sergeant major asked everyone to ensure their mobile phones were turned off. Minutes later the right side door opened and the family proceeded in. Teresa is being escorted by Sergeant First Class Garza and then I saw little Craig, I lost it—overcome with emotion, I struggled at thinking about a little boy growing up without his dad. War is such a miserable thing—just plain wretched.

Lisa Burton opened with the National Anthem and we all were reminded of what makes America such a great Nation. Proudly we stood and remained standing as Chaplain Mount read Psalms 23, which must be some of the most comforting words in the Bible. (God, I thank you for giving us such words of consolation.)

Then a tribute from the theater commander was read. In it he expressed the heroic manner in which SSG Thomas used both an MK-19 40mm grenade launcher mounted to his modified hummer and a sniper rifle to defend his Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) when they were suddenly ambushed by Taliban fighters in a valley in Hirat Province, Afghanistan. The report described in detail the number of enemy wounded or killed by Thomas; it explained how his steadfastness and courage under battle saved many other lives. According to the report, the team was taking fire from multiple sides and it was SSG Thomas’ actions which prevented the team from being completely surrounded. Thomas reacted as he had been trained, and his commitment to the warrior ethos and the men on his team prevented the SF community from having to bury more than one young man. Offers lived to fight another day. May God use those men to avenge the life of SSG Thomas according to His divine will.

SSG Thomas was awarded a Bronze Star with V-device for his valor in battle. The citation, read by Major Cadigan, described in detail the heroism of this warrior, who has made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of the oppressed people in Afghanistan who, according to the theater commander, want so very much to be free.

Next the chaplain spoke about Michael Thomas’ service to our Nation and reminded each of us that men like him and others that 7th group had lost in the past were the true heroes. He personalized his message by making reference to his own household where his 10 and 11 year old children do not look up to the typical pop culture heroes who sing, act and play for millions of dollars. Instead, Chaplain Mount reminds his children that it is men like SSG Thomas who should be admired. He extolled each of us to realize that SSG Thomas was living out God’s call on his life as a Soldier. He strived to comfort Teresa, Craig and all of the family. He stated that we all are tempted to ask why, yet we should focus on the example that SSG Thomas provided.

Two teammates were flown back to the states to speak on behalf of an entire Special Forces team who is now missing a key member. Each spent a few minutes sharing a bit of what they knew of this man who it appears was the newest member of the team. Michael Thomas was a Grandfather and father and as such earned the nickname “gramps.” Both men confessed how inadequate they felt in attempting to communicate words of comfort to the parents and wife of Michael. Each spoke of things that were rather empty with little assurance that Michael was a new creature in Christ. We hope that during Michael’s last minutes on this earth he reached out for mercy from the God of mercy. Afterwards, I spoke to Pastor Tony Wilson of West Fayetteville Baptist and he stated that Michael had heard on numerous occasions the gospel when he attended WFBC—so there is hope—he knew what God’s Word said. But we don’t know, and we are left with so very little comfort.

Then a retired SF NCO, Robert White, provided some soul-stirring music with a set of bagpipes.

“Almighty God, Who art the Author of liberty and the Champion of the opposed, hear our prayer. We the men of the Special Forces acknowledge our dependence upon thee in the preservation of human freedom” were the words we heard next as the Special Forces Prayer was read.

Moments later all rose in respect for the Ballad of the Green Beret. “Fighting soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die, men who mean just what they say, the brave men of the green beret…” (The silver wings are on his chest and he is one of America’s best; he was tested and proved to the best under fire in a valley thousands of miles away.)

After a brief pause, Sergeant Major Grissom began the roll call of the members of ODA 713. Then, the SGM began with the detachment commander and moved through the members with someone in the back responding with “deployed” for those still fighting the Taliban. The two SSGs present answered when their names were called, and then we heard “SSG Michael Thomas” and a pause and again “SSG Michael Thomas” and another long pause. The place was silent, and our minds were filled with how precious life is and how often we take it for granted. My mind was rolling with thoughts of Teresa and Craig and how empty all this is because Michael Thomas rejected Christ for all we know. I found myself exasperated with the fact that we were talking about professional football and classic rock during the remarks from friends instead of Thomas’ love for our Lord. I thought about how many more men are like Thomas, lost…and without hope. My mind was racing and I realized that without Christ there is nothing I can say of comfort to the family. Women are weeping and men are choking back emotion as the finality of life is suddenly in our face again. I want so much to be able to tell Teresa something of hope and encouragement, yet the Bible is so clear—God still commands all men everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [the name Jesus] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4.12).

Suddenly the silence was shattered by gunfire from outside as a detail of Soldiers honored the ultimate sacrifice made by an entire family. A wife looses her husband, a son must grow up without his dad, an adult daughter, mother and father have only their memories and a granddaughter is left with only pictures of her granddad.

We know taps is next, and the bugle call reminds us that the light of life is no longer present in SSG Michael Thomas because we have no testimony that the light of the glorious gospel shone in the heart of this young man.

Would to God Michael Thomas trusted Christ, like the thief on the cross, during his final moments in Afghanistan, but only eternity will reveal the truth…

May I encourage you to live a life that gives evidence that you are born-again? Those who love us want to have the confidence that we are new creatures in Christ.


2 comments:

  1. I have, unfortunately, been to far too many services just like this one. God bless SSG Thomas and his family. I pray they will find comfort, and that his son will one day know what a hero his daddy was.
    I do not know Teresa, but if there is anything I can do, please let me know.
    You are all, like all of our soldier and their families, in my prayers.

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  2. This is his daughter....I cant remember much of that day except holding my daughter HIS grandchild in my arms trying to quiet her innocent baby talk as many words that she didn't understand were being said and as I cried during the silence. I didnt want to be in that room...I didn't want to hold myself together for my mom and brother, I didnt want to face the reality of the past week....and here we are 5 yrs later....I still don't want it to be true. But in light of the silence...my mom has hope, she feels she has been comforted by God that he in fact did accept Christ and is in fact in heaven with our Father. One day each of us will know for sure, and until that day comes we live in torture here. Love you daddy, miss you.

    your babygirl,
    diana

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