For Virginia siblings, a brief reunion in a faraway land
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — As the big sister’s medical unit was wrapping up duty in Afghanistan, the little brother’s unit was on its way in, as the replacements.
First Lt. Rebecca Stratford and 2nd Lt. Kyle Thomas—siblings who grew up in King George County—got to spend a few weeks in July working alongside each other in a war zone. Both ended up at Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of the country.
“When I first heard, I thought, ‘It can’t be,’” said their mother, Susan Thomas, who lives in King George and is a scientist at the Navy base in Dahlgren. “The world is too big to have two kids at the same place.”
But the Army’s medical branch is relatively small, according to a story by U.S. Army Central Command. That’s how the brother and sister got dovetailing deployments.
“I know our poor mother is a wreck, because she gets one back and sends one off to war,” Stratford said in the Army’s story about them. “[But] our parents are extremely proud of us. They understand that this is our chosen path, and they support it no matter what.”
Stratford, 25 and married, is a medical officer in charge with a company attached to the 101st Airborne Division, out of Fort Campbell, Ky.
Thomas, 23, is a brigade medical supply officer for a unit with the 10th Mountain Division, stationed at Fort Polk, La.
Both graduated from King George High School—she in 2006 and he in 2008. Each was active in sports, Scouts and community activities, and both enjoyed the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in high school.
Commander Fred Duckworth and Sgt. Maj. Edwin Frank, leaders of the King George program, “were important figures in the kids’ lives,” their mother said.
Their success led them to the ROTC program in college, said their father, Gary Thomas. He served four years in the Coast Guard and worked as a Virginia Tech Extension agent in King George before moving to Palm Coast, Fla., five years ago for a similar job.
The siblings each earned about $90,000 in scholarships, their father said, and both got their Army commissions through college.
Stratford studied genetics at Clemson University and Thomas earned a degree in aviation from Ohio University.
She’s already back in the States and will start a clinical lab program next year at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Maryland.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I get to go back to the lab, which is my passion.”
Meanwhile, her younger brother wants to fly helicopters. That’s an extremely competitive field, according to the Army story, and he’s trying the backdoor approach: going through the medical branch to become a Medevac pilot.
In the Army story, Stratford said she didn’t think the Afghanistan connection would be the last one she’d share with her brother.
“I fully expect we’ll be crossing paths throughout our Army careers,” she said.
She said it’s nice to have someone in the family who knows exactly what her service in the military entails.
“I’m lucky in that I have someone sitting right next to me who gets it, who completely gets it,” she said. “It’s just the coolest thing.”