From Marine to Mom: Kate Thomas on Her Journey

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This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Marines. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

"I grew up in a house where the 11th commandment was ‘Thou Shalt Join the Marine Corps,'" Kate Thomas, 35, said while recalling the "social conditioning" in which she grew up. Her father was a Marine, and her brothers were, too, and even as children, their father instilled "Oohrah" values early on.

"If we did something bad, my dad would say, ‘You're better than that. You're brave and strong and true,'" Thomas recalled. "He created a high bar of success for us early on."

There was little doubt that Thomas would join the family's ranks. "That's just the way it was," she said. So, soon after receiving an ROTC scholarship and graduating from college, she was off to basic training and then military police school "in a tiny freezing place in Missouri. Oh, it was so cold," she said.

It was there that Thomas fell in love with the camaraderie, the intensity and the expectations that come with being a Marine. It was there that she found other women to look up to, as well.

When she arrived at officer candidate school, her company commander was a woman. She was the first of the many women she'd look up to and find strength from during her time in the Corps.

"She seemed larger than life," Thomas said. "She was a tremendous athlete, good at everything she did. She could jump over and lift anything. She had such a presence, and she was the first female role model I had during my time in the Marines. She emanated strength and confidence."

In 2005, Thomas was deployed to Fallujah, where the Marines had a heavy presence. There were no excuses on the ground. The expectations were intense with little room for error, and her time there taught her to care "very deeply" about the people with whom she trained and worked.

"I had never felt like I mattered more than when I was going to help one of my fellow Marines out of a jam," she said.

But after five and a half years of serving in the Marine Corps, her time was up. She was honorably discharged as a Captain and returned to civilian life.

"I think what people don't really understand is that once you get out of the military, you have a loss of primary ego identity," she said. "Your watch is done in the Marines, so it's really important to find a way to continue to serve—whether that's in your community or serving other veterans," she said.

In the transition from Marine to civilian, she found solid footing in academia. Driven by a passion for helping fellow veterans, Thomas became interested in helping others live healthier lives. This passion became her chief professional focus, and Thomas eventually earned a PhD in Health Education and Health Promotion. She would go on to become an assistant professor of health promotion at Charleston Southern University.

Thomas said she found her purpose first in finding her own ability to self-care and slow down ("I was wound so tight"), and in turn in assisting other veterans. She now teaches yoga, specifically trauma sensitive yoga to veterans at the Veterans Association and participates in CrossFit.

She volunteers for several veteran nonprofits, but her favorite is Team Red White and Blue, an organization intended to connect veterans with one another through physical and social activity. From learning how to surf in California to celebrating barbecue in Nashville, the nonprofit combines physicality with fun for veterans.

But Thomas' most important job is hands down as a mother and a wife. The values learned from her father and in the Marines are what push her forward every day.

"My time in the Marines makes me a better mom, wife and teacher," she said. "Plus, having the lessons from my father, having those Marine values instilled so early on — I will spend my life trying to emulate him."

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and Marines. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

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