The last two weeks have been pretty busy for JRTC and Fort Polk Garrison Commander COL Jarrett Thomas and his family.
Not only have they been packing up the last of their belongings for their change of duty station but they have been making the rounds in both Vernon and Beauregard Parishes saying farewell to the communities they have called home for the last two years.
The final farewells were given at a luncheon hosted by the City of Leesville, Fairway Mortgage, the Town of Rosepine the Vernon Chamber Military Affairs Committee and the Vernon Parish School Board on Wednesday at the Downtown Event Center in Leesville.
During what was essentially a roast of COL Thomas, members of the community recounted some of their fondest memories and greatest achievements involving the guidance and assistance of the colonel.
Mike Reese of Fort Polk Progress said it best when he said that it was so difficult to roast COL Thomas because “the guy is so nice”.
But that did not stop Reese from recalling that late last week he received an email that COL Thomas was giving a farewell speech at the Leesville City Council meeting. Reese did not want to miss the chance to tell COL Thomas farewell so he planned to attend the meeting.
The next day, Reese received another email saying COL Thomas was giving a farewell speech at the Vernon Parish School Board. Then, Reese said, he turned on the television and found COL Thomas giving a farewell speech on Good Day CENLA.
After a few more emails inviting Reese to celebrate COL Thomas’s farewell, Reese joked that the colonel was dragging his farewell on longer than the Eagles’ Farewell Concert.
In all seriousness, Reese called COL Thomas a terrific leader and praised him for wanting to be productive once he arrived at Fort Polk.
Months before COL Thomas took command of Fort Polk he met Reese and Leesville Mayor Rick Allen at a defense contractors event in South Carolina.
Reese and Allen both knew then that they were going to be dealing with somebody who was going to be dedicated to Fort Polk and help accomplish securing the intergovernmental agreements that have been vital to the communities in both Vernon and Beauregard Parishes.
Mixed among several thunderous eruptions of laughter, some tears were shed too. Particularly when Anne Smith of the Vernon Parish School Board recounted the many ways COL Thomas’s wife Telisha touched so many lives and was an integral part of the education system in Vernon Parish for the last two years.
Smith recounted that upon Telisha’s arrival at Fort Polk she went to the school board and worked on developing meetings to improve communication with new transitioning military parents.
Smith also said that Telisha was instrumental in developing the new school board website, and sharing with the board what military parents moving into the community would need.
In his final farewell speech, COL Thomas said that this will not be the last time the communities see him or his family. They will try to make it back to visit and maybe reassigned to Fort Polk.
“This has been a great community and I want to say thank you very much,” COL Thomas said.
COL Thomas and his family are heading to Fort Belvoir, Maryland where he will get his family settled in before heading for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.