Atlanta, Georgia born Thomas Burke joined the U.S. Army when he was 18 because he was interested in finding a career, not a job. Burke found basic training at Fort Dix difficult because he wasn’t prepared for the intensity of a New Jersey winter. Looking back, he regards it as a formative experience that instilled within him a much-needed sense of discipline. After completing basic, he received mechanical training at Maryland’s Fort Meade and was then assigned to Georgia’s Fort Benning for the duration of his service.

While in high school, Thomas began dating Mosel, the woman who would become his wife. As opposed to many of their classmates, Thomas and Mosel knew early on that they wanted to get married. After the Burkes conceived their first child, Thomas felt even more validated that his decision to join the armed forces was the correct one because of the many benefits the Army offered new his family. At the same time, Mosel felt incredibly lonely as a new Army wife and mother. However, after reaching out to the base chaplain, the Burkes began to form new friendships with people they would support and be supported by for decades to come.

As his time in the military started to wind down, Thomas applied for a job with the United States Postal Service. Because of the training he received in the Army, he was able to secure a position as a mechanical technician. Thomas has since been able to support his family by working at the Postal Service for 31 years. In addition to his mechanical skills, Mosel said her husband’s time in the military taught him how to instill the couple’s three children with important values like dedication, punctuality and self-discipline.

During his time in the service, Thomas really learned to appreciate football as it provided him and his fellow soldiers with a vital connection to the places and people they left behind. “No matter where you are overseas, they bring a little bit of home. Whether you’re from Boston or Chicago, you get to see your team.” And although his favorite football player is San Francisco Giants legend Joe Montana, Thomas is a committed Atlanta Falcons fan.

On the subject of the service people who followed him, Thomas expressed profound gratitude, saying, “I would like to thank the servicemen of every branch. We go on with their lives in the civilian side, but I know that’s because of what they’re doing on an everyday basis; protecting the country and making tremendous sacrifices. I don’t ever want them to ever think that as civilians, as we go about our lives, that we aren’t grateful.”

Mario McKellop is a freelance writer who has covered the pop culture beat since 2010.

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