Stabbing victim seeks closure, award for hero
April 11, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany — She’s married now, with a baby boy, an apartment in Mannheim, a secretarial job, even a little dog named Max. She not only loves her husband, she thinks of him as her hero. Literally.
Just a little more than a year ago, she was Spc. Jamie Kaskowitz, living at Tompkins Barracks, with a new roommate and just months to go before her enlistment was up and she was out of the Army.
But early on Jan. 21, 2007, she heard her roommate scream. She got out of bed and walked into a macabre, confusing scene that changed her life. Why was her roommate’s boyfriend holding a knife to her roommate’s throat?
And as Kaskowitz looked at them — her roommate Valerie Gamboa’s eyes filled with terror — Pfc. Mario Lesesne drew the knife across Gamboa’s throat.
Then Lesesne was on Kaskowitz, slashing at her head and shoulder.
Her boyfriend, Spc. Larry Thomas, who was visiting Kaskowitz, followed her into the room. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, either.
“He’s stabbing you?” he said.
“Actually, my mind went blank,” he said. “I went into a mode — a ‘protect Jamie’ mode, I think. I just threw myself in there.”
Thomas wrestled the knife from Lesesne’s hand and slammed his head against the wall. He punched him so hard, the bone on the outside of Thomas’ hand snapped in two.
“It makes me mad just talking about it,” said Thomas, 24, more than a year later.
Lesesne broke free and ran off; Thomas tended to his girlfriend and did what little he could for Gamboa, who died of her wounds — she’d been stabbed 23 times — before the ambulance finally arrived.
Kaskowitz had been stabbed five times. And in those terrible seconds, and in the difficult months that followed, she decided that she could not do without Thomas ever again.
“He is my hero,” she said, and for the past year, she’s been on a mission to see his heroism recognized more publicly.
Now known as Mrs. Jamie Thomas, the 25-year-old new mother wants her husband to be awarded the Soldier’s Medal.
“He could have been killed but he didn’t think of himself,” she said. “He wanted to save me, and he did.”
The award was originally her former company commander’s idea, she said, but that paperwork was lost. Since then, she has persevered through mountains of forms and scores of phone calls, only to be referred elsewhere. Another company commander’s opinion was that Thomas’ actions did not meet the medal standard.
“I’ve started over, like six times,” Jamie Thomas said. “Every time I push it, I have to retell the story — what did he do, why he deserves it. I have to relive it.”
The couple would never have met, except through the Army. She was born in Nome, Alaska, grew up in Orange County, Calif., and said she joined the Army on a whim when a recruiter popped up on Sunset Boulevard.
Larry Thomas is from a small Texas town near Galveston and enlisted because he didn’t get the sports scholarship he needed to attend college.
He was smitten with her immediately, he said, but she declined to date him until both returned from yearlong deployments, and she saw in him what he had seen in her.
Still, she was planning on leaving in May. Lesesne’s court-martial and Kaskowitz’s sudden bond with the man who saved her, followed by her pregnancy, kept her in Germany instead. They married the June day that Lesesne was sentenced to no more than 99 years in prison.
The couple’s son, Kaymon Thomas, was born in November at Heidelberg Hospital, where his mother had recovered from the stabbing.
It was a happy day in what had been a year of sad ones — “Rough from start to end,” Jamie Thomas said.
“It was indescribably bad,” she said. “I remember, I’d push my chair all the way to the back corner of a room so I could see all the exits. I was so paranoid something was going to happen again.”
First Personnel Command leaders helped her, she said. They made sure she saw a counselor to understand what she was going through. When she had a panic attack, her sergeant had soldiers there for her within minutes. Another sergeant cleaned the crime scene all alone, she said, refusing to have his soldiers go through that.
In a way, it was worse for Larry Thomas. His former artillery unit, since disbanded, responded as though nothing had happened. But Thomas was in distress.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was so depressed. But I had to be the tough guy,” he said. “You don’t realize it until you come out of it — I was really in a bad way.”
Five months ago, he was demoted to private second class after a urinalysis showed he’d smoked marijuana — to help him deal with recurrent, awful thoughts of that morning, he said.
He’s back on track now with the 5th Signal Command. He recently got a “Most Improved Soldier” award. But there’s still a burden his wife doesn’t share.
“I have to hold up for her,” he said.
Larry Thomas is less invested in getting the medal — awarded for noncombat heroism involving personal danger and voluntary risk of life — than is his wife. He doesn’t ask about her efforts, said he doesn’t really feel like a hero.
“I was doing what I was supposed to do — protect and serve,” he said.
“She’s very ambitious. She likes to get it done. But if I don’t get it, I’m just going to move on,” he said.
His wife said she’s recently gotten a packet together and has assurances from a variety of officials who have indicated they’ll support the effort as it goes to the Department of the Army.
“I feel closer now than I’ve ever been,” she said. “This is something I need to do. I feel it’s the only way I can say thank you.
“I have a beautiful baby and an amazing husband,” she said. “When I’m with him, I feel as safe as you could imagine.”