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Costs nothing to be kind

627 CES Airman exemplifies core values in more ways than one

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Brooks, 627th Civil Engineer Squadron structural craftsman, assists Staff Sgt. Jerika-Deandra Thomas, 627th CES structural journeyman, with bending a sheet of metal. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zoe Thacker

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - For many, living life based on the Air Force's core values of integrity first, excellence in all we do and service before self, comes as second nature once transitioning from the civilian world to the military. But for some, extending a helping hand and saying a kind word has been in their DNA since before they could even tie their shoes.

On several accounts, Staff Sgt. Jerika-Deandra Thomas, 627th Civil Engineer Squadron structural journeyman, is one of those people.

Growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida, Thomas said she often saw those around her graduate and steer their lives into a standstill with their choices and decided she wanted something more for herself.

"Life started to feel like a routine and I wanted something better for myself and the ability to help my family," Thomas said. "Being able to pursue an education, see the world and better myself, my family and hopefully those around me, really drew me into joining the Air Force."

Since joining the ranks of the Air Force, Thomas has demonstrated her deep understanding of the core values by receiving the John L. Levitow Award, rescuing individuals involved in a dangerous car crash, working toward a degree in criminal justice, and becoming a mentor for high school students.

With five years of service under her belt, Thomas tested for and received her next rank, attending Airman Leadership School earlier this year where she traded in her senior airman operational camouflage pattern patch for its staff sergeant counterpart.

"I'm not sure what I did that made my instructors think to choose me to receive the Levitow award because I was just a helper," Thomas said. "Everything I did to help my classmates, even if it was something as small as letting them use my computer for a presentation or offering to print their papers out for them if they couldn't, all came to me without a second thought."

The Levitow award, the highest achievement at ALS, is presented to the student who demonstrates the most outstanding leadership and scholastic qualities during the program. Though Thomas humbly says she doesn't understand how her role as class librarian or being a supportive wingman to her peers earned her the award, her supervisor in the 627th CES wasn't surprised at all.

"Since I've known Thomas, she's always been involved in making herself and those around her better," said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Brooks, Thomas's supervisor and 627th CES structural craftsman. "By doing that, she's ultimately making the Air Force better. Every time we're out on a job, I know I can count on seeing her with a new airman at her side, showing them how to do the job and passing down every piece of knowledge that she has."

Thomas's selflessness didn't dissipate when she graduated as a new staff sergeant. In fact, it was put to the test when she witnessed a dangerous highway car crash in Gulfport, Mississippi, while at a training course for her job in March of 2021.

"I was driving along Highway 90 when I saw a driver, who appeared to be under the influence, cross over the median into oncoming traffic and collide head-on with another vehicle in front of me, immediately catching that vehicle on fire," Thomas said. "I didn't even think twice about getting out of my car and rushing over to one of the cars to help get them out and over to safety."

As other bystanders aided the woman and her children who were struck in the collision, Thomas pulled the other individual involved from his car and away from the burning vehicle before administering first aid that she learned from both her former lifeguard experience and her Self-Aid and Buddy Care training in the Air Force.

"After we were able to get the man out of the car, I got him out of the road and started checking for shock," Thomas said. "Once I knew he could hear me, I elevated his head and did what I could to keep him calm until the paramedics arrived. I was nervous to go running toward a car that was on fire, but I knew I had to make sure the people involved were okay, so that's what I did."

All individuals involved were taken to a local hospital where they received the medical attention they required and Thomas continued with her training. Once arriving back to her home station on JBLM, she informed her supervisor of the incident and was thanked by leadership in her unit for jumping to action so quickly.

"I didn't tell my leadership about the wreck for recognition, I haven't ever felt like I needed recognition or even a ‘thank you' when doing something kind for someone," Thomas said. "Just knowing I was able to help someone out when they needed it is enough for me and it costs nothing to be kind."

When she isn't receiving the highest award presented in ALS or rescuing wounded individuals from vehicles, Thomas is pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

"I want to be somebody that people come to when they need help," Thomas said. "I want to specifically be involved in helping get justice for children who are survivors of abuse. My goal is to one day work for the U.S. Marshals and assist with the recovery of children who have been trafficked."

Thomas's love for helping children also manifests as her mentoring high school students who may be interested in joining the military upon graduating high school.

Growing up in an area where the military was not presented as an option to young men and women, Thomas said she wanted to return to her hometown to change the narrative and let people know that she was able to make it out of the area and that it's possible for others to do it too.

"You don't have to go thousands of dollars in debt for an education, you can go to school for free with the military," Thomas said. "And while you do that you can travel the world, learn a trade, meet new people and be a part of something that's bigger than you."

Eagerness to lend a helping hand was something Thomas insists she picked up daily from her own mother and grandmother and credits them with much of her selflessness and strong faith.

"If there were times that we may have been struggling a little, even as a single mother, my mom would always try and help other families who may have been doing a little bit worse than us," Thomas said. "The same can be said about my grandmother. They always told me not to do kind things for recognition, but to do it because God wants you to."

Each helping hand extended and kind word spoken has shaped the kind of airman and person that Thomas is. Whether deployed or stateside, a structural journeyman or a future U.S. Marshal, Thomas strives to prove each day that it costs nothing to be kind.

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