By RAVEN JACKSON | Staff Writer
There are some people in the world who give naturally and selflessly and have the courage to contribute to the wellbeing of others. Mitzie Forrest-Thompson is one of these people.
Thompson, a campus employee in the Department of Institutional Research, is married to Sgt. Justin Thompson, whom she met on a blind date in February 2005.
Their marriage has been anything but ordinary. Thompson’s husband has been deployed for three of the five years they have been married. On the day of their five year anniversary, Sunday, Nov. 28, the couple will celebrate this special occasion apart.
Thompson does not let her husband’s deployment extinguish her passion for donating her time to the military. It seems to drive her even more. “I always have a goal in mind at the beginning of a deployment year. During the last deployment, I decided I would finish my bachelor’s degree.
“So, 12 months later and with 43 credit hours behind me for the year, I received my B.S. degree from APSU,” Thompson said.
“This deployment, I work full-time in APSU’s Department of Institutional Research, volunteer as a Troop Family Readiness Group Leader and I chair the Walk To Afghanistan Project.”
Thompson started the Walk to Afghanistan Project with a Family Readiness Group leader from another troop at the beginning of the current deployment.
The program consists of participants figuratively walking in their soldiers’ boots and promotes good physical fitness and health.
“I contacted APSU’s [Geographic Information Systems] Department and they estimated the distance to Kandahar, Afghanistan from Campbell Army Air Field. It is 10,644 miles.
“To date, our Task Force has collectively walked more than 18,926 miles. This project actually went brigade-wide, with a total of six task forces participating. All six task forces have walked more than 54,528 miles just since April of this year,” Thompson said.
The glowing fire that drives Thompson’s military volunteerism was sparked at a young age.
“I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for the military because of family influence. My father served in Vietnam with the Army and my brother is in Japan serving with the Air Force right now. I’ve had family members in the U.S. Army, the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy.”
The reach of her motivation for helping the armed forces extends beyond her family.
Thompson has been moved by numerous soldiers who have helped to keep the passionate spark within her burning bright.
“Naturally, my husband’s service in the military has inspired me to be involved, but there are other soldiers who equally share the credit.”
Thompson met soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital after she received a free trip to Washington, D.C.
“The very best part of the entire trip was visiting with the soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital. That changed my life forever and if I could do it as a job, I’d be the happiest person alive.”
Thompson made the trip to Washington, D.C. at the request of her Squadron Commanding Officer’s wife, who is also her Family Readiness Group’s adviser and her Family Readiness Support assistant.
“I really did enjoy the trip a lot. I’d been to D.C. before, but it was my first time as a military spouse. I learned many new things, such as Comprehensive Soldier Fitness at the FORSCOM Syposium (Forces Command), which was three days long,” she said.
“I also found the AUSA Annual Meeting (Association of the United States Army) to be high energy and very upbeat. I was able to see many of the new, up-and-coming prototypes of Army vehicles and learn more about what the AUSA does. I loved the exhibit hall floor at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center. It was totally awesome.”
Thompson has helped to implement many programs to benefit the military. Through these programs, deployed soldiers can receive a piece of home while overseas and a smile put on the faces of family and friends waiting for their return.
“With my commander’s permission, we began our own version of an Adopt-A-Soldier program. My sister adopted two soldiers, I adopted one, another FRG took on one of her own and we also found a couple of local churches and businesses who took on a few soldiers,” Thompson said.
“We also had a banner signing. I invited all local family members to come and sign it and I extended e-mail invitations to everyone who didn’t live locally, promising to add their special message to their soldier myself.
“It was a huge hit and now hangs on the hangar wall. The first sergent has said that people frequently stop to look at their children’s handprints or see what special message their family members sent them. One female soldier cried when she saw her daughter’s handprint on the banner.”
Thompson also has plans to make the upcoming holidays a little easier for the soldiers who have to spend them away from home. “The latest project we have going is called ‘Service Matters’ Holiday Mail Drive.
“We put out information stating that we’d like to have 3,200 cards, notes, postcards or letters to send our soldiers for the holiday season. Theoretically, all 100 of our soldiers would be able to read a card a day during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“My guest room is currently full of mail from all over the country and I begin counting and sending the mail to our troop this week. I don’t have final figures yet, but if I were to guess, we’ve surpassed our original goal of 3,200 pieces of mail. I think we’re going to have enough to share with the entire brigade and the chaplains will be able to distribute some of it for us,” said Thompson.
Through her military volunteerism, Thompson has gained many memories that will stick with her for a lifetime.
“The most memorable moment of being a military spouse came just last month while in D.C. visiting 101st Airborne soldiers at Walter Reed.
“There was a young soldier there [who was] 26 years old. He lost both his legs in an IED explosion.
“He had suffered a lot of physical pain, but when asked what he missed about being downrange, he said he missed his platoon the most. He also said when he got his new legs and learned how to use them, he’d be running with [his platoon] again when they come back to Fort Campbell.”
Thompson has gained much wisdom volunteering.
“I have learned that we take far too much for granted and we let the little, insignificant things in life get us down and hold us back. Sometimes, living has to be done second by second and minute by minute.
“Even though it can be very difficult getting through the tough times, we should never take our lives for granted. If it were not for the tough times, how would we know when life is really good, anyway?” TAS