PATROL BASE ALCATRAZ, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
Families all over America have certain traditions they honor. Some go on annual camping trips, and others have special items they’ve passed down from generation to generation. One Mesa, Ariz., native made joining the Marine Corps a family tradition.
Corporal Thomas Gifford serves as a point man for B Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, and is the third child in his immediate family to join the Corps. Twenty-year-old Thomas said he knew what he wanted to do the day his oldest brother, Josh Menigoz, a former sergeant, decided to join the Marine Corps. Just two years after Menigoz made the decision, Robert Gifford, the second oldest and a sergeant, followed in his footsteps. Only a high school diploma stood in the way of Thomas’ dream of becoming a Marine and beginning a tradition he hopes will continue to run in the family.
“I always knew I wanted to join,” said Gifford. “My brothers had always been a big influence on me, and I just wanted to make them proud.”
He said his brothers thought he was destined for something different and urged Thomas to go to college instead.
“They kept saying, ‘Don’t do it; don’t do it; go to college instead,’” explained Thomas. “There was no way they were talking me out of it because it was what I wanted to do. As soon as I joined and told them what I had done, they could not have been more proud.”
Thomas wasn’t just joining to earn the title Marine, he was aiming to become a reconnaissance Marine. They must go through the School of Infantry and the Basic Reconnaissance Course. Thomas decided becoming a recon Marine would set him apart from his brothers.
“Growing up, we made everything a competition,” said Thomas. “Being that Josh took the aviation ordnance route and Robert became a mortarman, I felt like I had to one-up them.”
The Skyline High School graduate said he and his brothers have always been close and loved the friendly sibling rivalries; becoming a Marine only brought them closer.
Just as it brought them closer, Thomas also quickly realized his favorite part about joining the Corps was all the new brothers he’s obtained along the way.
“The best thing about being a Marine is all the people you get to meet. I treat every one of these Marines like my brothers,” said Thomas. “I’m best friends with practically everyone on my team, and I wouldn’t have these best friends if it wasn’t for the Marine Corps.”
His best friends count on him to lead them through the battle space. As a point man he must choose the route he and the Marines take carefully and sweep for any improvised explosive devices along the way.
He must clear a safe path for the Marines as they patrol through the area of operations during the day and under the cover of darkness. It’s something he said is his favorite part of the job.
“I love being in the front. I feel like I can control the tempo of the patrols,” explained Thomas. “I feel like I’m more in control up front and know that I’m not going to lead my Marines into anything bad.”
Although Thomas can’t control the enemy, Sgt. Frank Mignoli of Palmerton, Penn., said he believes Thomas has done a great job.
“I went through the Basic Reconnaissance Course with him, and even then he stood out pretty good, but when he got here he showed a lot of enthusiasm,” said Mignoli, a fellow reconnaissance Marine and an assistant team leader with the unit. “Once we started using him as a point man, he was outstanding. He’s done more than 50 patrols here, and he’s done everything I’ve asked of him on every mission.”
Each mission has brought Thomas and the rest of 2nd Recon Battalion one mission closer to going home. He said the thing he missed most about home was girls, but he knows exactly what he’s going to do when he returns to the United States in the near future.
“Hug my mom!” he exclaimed with a grin. “That’s the first thing I’m going to do as soon as I jump off the bus is hug my mom.”
Editor’s Note: The battalion is currently assigned to 2nd Marine Division (Forward). The division serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure the Afghan people, defeat insurgent forces, and enable ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.