Published: July 23, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Nkosi Thomas on Friday became the first known Virgin Islander to assume command of a Coast Guard cutter.
Thomas took charge of the Coast Guard Cutter Sitkinak during a change of command ceremony in Miami.
"It all went by so fast," Thomas said.
Thomas' mother, Janelle, and father, Randolph, among other family members, were in Miami for the event.
"It's kind of, like, breathtaking," Janelle Thomas said. "You're in awe because your young son has achieved so much. It's like, am I really here watching this? It really is a great moment for all of the Virgin Islands."
Nkosi Thomas, 26, graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2008 with a bachelor of science degree in management. His parents, both of whom work in education, pointed out that their son went to public schools his whole life, graduating in 2003 from Charlotte Amalie High School.
"He's 100 percent public school," said Randolph Thomas, who works for the V.I. Education Department. "He's one of the success stories of our public schools."
Both parents said they hope their son can be a role model for public school students to look up to.
"All of the young people reading this story can achieve this and more if they work hard, if families are supportive of their children, and they never ever forget to put God first," Janelle Thomas said.
Nkosi Thomas credited his parents - "they didn't really give me much of a choice but to be successful" - for pointing him in the right direction and said retired Charlotte Amalie High School counselor Barbara Isaac first pushed him to join the Coast Guard.
"I had a lot of help from a lot of important people along the way," Nkosi Thomas said.
He said after one summer in a Coast Guard program suggested by Isaac, he was sold on the mission.
"The spirit of the Coast Guard really took to me," Nkosi Thomas said. "I enjoyed it so much, I decided that summer that's what I wanted to do. So that set me in the right direction, and from there it's just been turning the wheels and keeping them going."
The 110-foot Sitkinak, with a crew of 17, is part of the Coast Guard's Miami Sector patrol unit, according to Randolph Thomas and remarks delivered Friday by Capt. Chris Scraba. The Sitkinak's primary responsibilities include alien migrant interdiction, counter-drug enforcement and search and rescue operations, Nkosi Thomas said.
Scraba described the duties of Coast Guard patrol boats.
"They must safely navigate and operate in a region that spans over 182 miles of coastline to the Bahamas and back, where shoals and waves in the Gulf Stream are just as dangerous as migrants and drug smugglers," Scraba said. "They are often on-scene commanders for complex multi-unit and, at times, multi-national cases. There is no room for rest, mediocrity or complacency; our cutters and their commanding officers must be at their best, at all hours, in all conditions."
Nkosi Thomas' first assignment was to the Coast Guard's ship Tampa, where he served as assistant navigator and first lieutenant patrolling the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The ship's main missions were counter-drug operations, alien migrant interdiction and search and rescue, and it provided humanitarian relief to Haiti in the wake of hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.
In 2010, Nkosi Thomas reported to the U.S.S. Decatur as navigator and executive department head. While on the Decatur, he completed an extended deployment to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation New Dawn, performing missions to protect Iraqi oil terminals and maintaining ballistic missile defense coverage.
The lieutenant's awards include the Navy Achievement Medal, the Commandant's Letter of Commendation and various other unit and campaign awards.
The change of command ceremony capped off a memorable week for Nkosi Thomas, who married his wife Jennifer, also of St. Thomas, on July 14 on St. Thomas.
"It's been a big week," he said.
The lieutenant said one of his goals during his two-year command is to bring the Sitkinak to his hometown.
"Hopefully, we'll get to pull the Sitkinak into the harbor down there so everyone can see," he said.