One career is not enough: From Marine colonel to patrol sergeant to MBA student
Washington State Patrol Sgt. Erick Thomas recently ended a successful career in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring last December as a colonel in the USMC Reserves. He’s now on career number two with the State Patrol, and within the next year, will likely start career number three. But before he launches his third act, Thomas is working towards his master’s in business administration (MBA) at Brandman University’s Lacey campus.
“I returned to school after 28 years and I admit I was a little nervous,” said Thomas. “I am doing this for me. When I eventually retire from the patrol, I want to do something that doesn’t involve uniforms or firearms.”
For Thomas, that will likely be a job in logistics. He’s had a series of executive-level logistics positions with the Marines, including two deployments to Iraq and Kuwait. He describes his role in Kuwait as “incredible,” serving as the USMC Central Command (MARCENT) liaison officer to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
“I was administratively responsible for all of the Marines in Iraq, Kuwait and Oman,” explains Thomas. “It was an incredible experience working with individuals from the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait to his State Department staff, plus U.S. Marines, U.S Army, Navy and Air Force personnel. All these different groups worked so well together to get the mission accomplished.”
Now, you’ll find Thomas in the role of detachment sergeant for the WSP, patrolling in East Pierce County. What he likes best? As with his Marine experience, again, it’s the people. “I have a great team, great people, and that makes the job so much more fun,” said Thomas. “You never know what your day is going to be like. And as cliché’ as it sounds, I truly like helping people.”
In fact, Thomas shares a story about working overtime for the Department of Transportation. He was on I-5 when a pickup truck pulled up near him on the highway shoulder. The man inside calmly asked if Thomas knew where the nearest hospital was because he “felt off.” In spite of the man’s nonchalant manner, Thomas realized the man was having a heart attack and called an aid unit to take him the hospital. A couple of weeks later, Thomas received a letter from the man’s son, thanking him for saving his dad’s life.
His other stories about his law enforcement experience also focus on helping people, even though some have criminal histories, are high on drugs or alcohol, or are emotionally disturbed. At the end of his shift, he recently helped a single mother, who works in Seattle and commutes on the weekend back to Vancouver, Washington, to see her daughter. Even though she had roadside assistance, it wouldn’t have arrived in time for her to get to a tire store and get a new tire. The spare tire wasn’t rated to drive safely all the way to Vancouver. Thomas quickly changed the tire so she could get a new tire and make it home to see her daughter.
In addition to his job at the State Patrol, Thomas is focusing on his education, working towards his MBA. Now that he’s retired from the Marine Reserves, his free time is spent taking classes. “I wasn’t a great student in primary school,” he explains. “I realized in college that I learn differently. It’s a challenge for me, and I want to prove to myself I can do it.”
So far, Thomas said the experience is exceeding his expectations with the level of support and quality of instructors at Brandman, using a blended format of both in-class and online instruction. He’s taking it one class at a time, targeting a graduation date in 2018.
“The people at Brandman want to see us succeed,” said Thomas. “I think I can work a full-time job, raise a family and get A’s.”
This story originally appeared in the FTE News Magazine for Washington state employees.
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