Over 30 days supporting the National Guard warehouse mission where he served as the Team Leader, and 3 months in the additional roll of “acting” NCOIC. Sound like a seasoned Georgia State Defense Force veteran of a couple of decades? No. This is Specialist Thomas Willis, an embedded EMR with 2nd Battalion/First Brigade. After being selected Soldier of the Year from his battalion and the First Brigade, Willis has now earned the coveted “Soldier of the Year Award” for the Georgia Division of the State Defense Force.
“In 2014,” Willis says, “ I had a total of 85 days in uniform, training, supporting the National Guard, supporting the Georgia Department of Defense, and supporting Georgia communities. 85 days; that’s more than 3 times the average volunteer commits to in one year with the GSDF!” He adds, “ I successfully accomplished my personal goal of earning my Master Mission Badge only 9 months after completing my initial training.”
Willis is also prior service, having served as an aircraft electrician in the US Navy with a sea deployment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation. “Honestly, I knew almost nothing about the SDF when I joined, having just moved here from Alabama; I believed that I joined the GSDF because I saw it as an ADVENTURE, and having prior training in confined space rescue; I saw it as a way to help others.”
In 2014 alone, Willis was awarded the Georgia Commendation Medal for his role in Operation Snowball, the Georgia State Defense Commendation Medal for supporting the Infantry School at Fort Stewart, the State Defense Force Achievement Ribbon for the National Guard warehouse mission, and a 2nd SDF Achievement Ribbon after having been named recipient of the Class Leadership Award by his Soldier Leadership Course classmates.
MSG Doug Ford adds “As the SLC NCOIC that Willis graduated from, I had the chance to watch him develop as the course progressed. I am very proud of him and want him to understand that he has set a bar for himself and others that will be tough to maintain. Having seen his preparation, consistency and drive while in my SLC class, there is very little doubt that Willis will not only maintain that bar, but will consistently achieve greater heights. Willis: I am proud of you.”
According to Willis, “It’s the hardest thing I have ever studied for because of the broad scope of categories like Land Nav, first aid, Leadership, D&C, Military History, Customs and Courtesies, etc … and yet it has been the most rewarding for those same reasons! There was SO MUCH information and knowledge gleaned from the effort! I have always been the one who hated drawing attention to himself; in the end I chose to let my service and my passion for our purpose speak for itself and my studying paid off. I had an outstanding support team of NCOs encouraging me, friends, family, and fellow soldiers who believed in me; it was a combined effort of all these that produced success. ‘I am an American Soldier, I am a Warrior, and a member of a TEAM…’”
Willis says his short-term goal is to become an instructor and teach Wilderness and Urban Search and Rescue classes, as well as teaching Wilderness and Urban survival skills classes. His long-term goal is to attend WO school with his specialty being in Nuclear Emergencies, since this has been a major part of his civilian career.
SPC Willis is from Jesup, Georgia and a graduate of Wayne County High School and South Georgia Technical College. He resides in Kennesaw with his wife Jenny.