Legion of Merit awarded to exceptional Command Chief of 70th ISRW; first since stand-up of 25th Air Force
By Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes , 70th ISR Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 15, 2016
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Chief Master Sgt. Mark A. Thomas, 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing command chief, was presented the Legion of Merit for his excellent leadership at the 70th ISRW. Presented to him January 8, 2016, he became the first senior enlisted member since the stand-up of 25th Air Force to receive such an honor. Every award has a story and every story has a beginning.
In May 2014, Thomas arrived to the Maryland region, where he joined the ISRW Airmen on their mission. The wing has a unique makeup of 30 geographically separated units and operating locations throughout the world. As the senior enlisted advisor, Thomas fulfilled his role advising commanders on enlisted matters during a major change in enlisted professional development for ISR Airmen.
"I was excited but also nervous. Being the 70th ISRW Command Chief means there are almost 5,500 Airmen counting on you, so it's a big responsibility," Thomas said. "I was just hoping I was ready for the challenge and would be able to make a positive impact on Airmen and the mission."
Airman, wingman, warrior; working closely with the commander, vice commander, superintendent, first sergeants and his staff, Thomas still needed a way to impact those that were not in the local area. To motivate and learn from them of what they needed to make their mission successful. He focused on interaction along with the leadership followership mindset, hoping that it would resonate with one airman and become contagious.
Thomas said that he believes in the difference between good and great leaders; in that a good leader affects those around them, while great leaders able to affect people they'll never meet by positively influencing enough people who themselves become people others want to emulate
"I'm amazed sometimes at the impact a single Airmen or a team of Airmen have had. Whether it's leading to battlefield successes, informing cabinet-level decision makers to outmaneuver their counterparts or adversaries, or the literally hundreds of reports just in my time as the command chief that have made their way into the President's Daily Brief," Thomas said. "70th Airmen are at the forefront of time- and decision-dominant ISR operations, and I'm amazingly proud of what they do on behalf of our nation every day."
Thomas looks forward to making sure that when his time comes to move on, that he will leave the 70th better than he found it. A desire most leaders strive for. In that time, he hopes to positively influence his Airmen personally and professionally.
In the past two years he has been able to lead over five thousand Airmen, six groups, 22 squadrons around 34 different locations throughout the globe. He was a key player in leading his Airmen to several triumphs of enemies overseas through airborne intelligence to support the men and women actively in Operations Inherent Resolve and Enduring Freedom.
He listened to his Airmen and was able create permanent job opportunities to make sure that they were not over worked. This helped create funding and the opening of their Airmen and Family Readiness Center, making sure his Airmen and their families were taken care of.
These were only a few of the accomplishments that lead Thomas to the Legion of Merit. It was only recently that the Legion of Merit policy was changed to allow enlisted member receive the award.
Thomas also mentioned that today's generals, colonels and chiefs, for instance, no longer do the mission for which they were brought into the Air Force, it is the junior Airmen, officer and enlisted. He said they are the ones with the best ideas on how to execute the mission better, faster, smarter, more efficiently.
"I'm humbled and honored to receive any decoration, but especially the Legion of Merit because it's not awarded very frequently to wing command chiefs. However, I believe the most important aspect of the award is not that Mark Thomas received it, but that the wing command chief did," said Thomas.
Receiving this award gives Chief Master Sgt. Thomas hope that Airmen see how much leadership values the 80 percent of junior and senior enlisted Airmen that makes up todays Air Force.