|Command Sgt. Major Steven Thornton receives recognition for his retirement after serving 30 years in the National Guard.|
When Steve Thornton was a young man, he eagerly awaited his 18th birthday so he could enlist in the Navy to serve his country. Just prior to that birthday, a friend talked Steve into checking out the National Guard. Steve went with his friend and they joined together.
Thirty years later, an Army National Guard retirement celebration was held for Steve at Camp Williams in Draper. He retired as a Unit Command Sgt. Major with the 115th Engineer Group on June 16. That is the highest rank an enlisted person can attain.
The Utah Army National Guard honored Command Sgt. Major Thornton with the Legion of Merit and a bronze statue entitled, Command Sgt. Major, Keeper of the Colors, In addition to these awards, Steve was given an authentic Harley Davidson rocking chair and a shadow box with his rank and awards inside. "They were afraid I wouldn't have anything to do in the winter," chuckled Thornton.
Thornton was honored at his retirement by 150 fellow guardsmen, 30 family members, and the Utah State adjutant general, command sgt. major, brigadier general, and four commanders. "This was really quite an honor," said Steve. "It was way cool."
In turn, Thornton chose to honor his employer, Energy West with the "My Boss is a Patriot" award. Bob King and Cardell Mortensen were on hand at Thornton's retirement to accept on behalf of Energy West.
Steve and Debbie said that Energy West was very good to them during his deployments. The employees and employer were very attentive to Debbie's needs. The company maintained his wages and their health insurance, and even supplied the family with a half beef. Steve's coworkers stopped by to check on Debbie's situation while Steve was away and do whatever they could to help out. A local car repair shop even made a house call when Debbie's car would not start one cold winter morning.
"Being a member of the guard can be compared to a three-legged milking stool. All three legs must work together to make the stool work. The three components of this three-legged milking stool are family, soldier, and employer. If one of those components is not as strong as the other, the thing won't work," said Thornton.
Steve's wife, Debbie, and his family were honored at the ceremony with roses and a standing ovation. "It's been a learning experience for me. When we moved to Orangeville, Steve had been in the guard for two years. We had no family here and my children were small. A wife doesn't really realize the things the husband does around the house until he is not there anymore. While he is gone, which in the past has usually been two weeks-30 days, you learn to do those things for yourself," said Debbie. "It was really neat to go to the ceremony and hear the great things about Steve."
During his 30 years in the Guard, Steve has been deployed around the US and the world, including Germany, Panama, and Nicaragua, doing the things he was called upon as a guardsman. In the engineers, he has been involved in building roads, schools, bridges and clinics. In Utah, Steve has been involved in building or improving roads around Beaver and Strawberry.
His longest deployment was to Iraq and it lasted a year and a half. While in Iraq, he built force protection, schools, soccer fields, and bridges. "When we arrived, there was no infrastructure like utilities and communications. We lived in tents with the highest temperature in the summer at 150 degrees. During the winter, the highs were in the 80s with lows about 38-40 degrees," said Steve.
He also spent six weeks helping with the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. Since his return from Iraq, he has been called to California, Florida, Missouri, and Hurricane Katrina cleanup.
During the retirement ceremony, Steve's family was invited to say a few words. Each of the family members spoke about what the Guard means to them. His grandchildren voiced their feelings about now being able to have grandpa home more. "He can go shopping with us and take us on his Harley now," said his granddaughter and grandson.
While Steve was in Iraq, Debbie maintained a website to help the guardsmen and their families stay in touch because of the lack of telephone communications. "At first we would share information that could be obtained. We built a virtual military base so the families could get a better idea of what the soldiers were going through," said Debbie.
"This has been a bittersweet time for both of us," said Steve. "I'm going to miss my fellow soldiers and their friendships. It's really hard to listen to them say they did not want me to go. I've been their advisor, and the health and morale of the soldiers was my responsibility. But, now I get to have weekends off and maybe I'll be home for our anniversary."
"The guard has been good to us. We have learned a lot about the military and life in general. It has developed both of us and our relationship," said Debbie.
Steve is looking forward to some things he wants to do now with a little more time on his hands. Although he still works full time with Energy West, he wants to work with CASA and spend more time with his grandchildren.