ROSEVILLE, CA, USA U.S. Army PFC, COMPANY B, 3D BATTALION, 75TH INFANTRY, FORT BENNING, GA QALAT, AFGHANISTAN 02/18/2007
When Kristofer Thomas was 15, he told a recruiter that he wanted to join the Army.
For most kids, it could have been a boyhood whim. But Thomas never wavered from his pledge. He graduated from high school in the Sacramento Valley city of Roseville a semester early so he could enlist a month after his 17th birthday. Within months, he became the youngest-ever member of the Army Rangers, an elite, highly trained special operations unit, and soon was deployed to Afghanistan.
On Feb. 18, the 18-year-old private first class and seven other special operations soldiers were killed when their CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter crashed in Afghanistan’s Zabol province, south of Kabul. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Ft. Benning, Ga.
Thomas’ friends and family members say he had an unusual drive, sense of purpose and social consciousness. In his 2005 senior project report at Roseville High School, Thomas wrote that he questioned the reasons why the United States was at war in Iraq but felt compelled to join the military to help the many Americans fighting overseas.
“I came to the conclusion that the people fighting for us are everyday people, my brother Nic included. I don’t want to just sit back and watch the casualty numbers climb on CNN. I need to do something to help out. That’s why I signed up for the Army,” he wrote. “There are always others willing to make a choice for the greater good of society to fight for the right of those who need them most. Whether it be a fight in the field or a battle against AIDS, whatever the case may be, we need people who help those who are oppressed.”
Thomas’ mother, Deborah Getz, didn’t know that her son had written the report until his economics teacher, Kathy Enos, brought it to her after his death.
“He was one of our finest students I’ve had the honor to teach,” Enos wrote in a note.
Army Sergeant Terry Phillips, who had recruited Thomas and his older brother, Nicholes Doan, and became close friends with the family, said in a eulogy that Thomas had a “seemingly unswerving drive” and was a consummate prankster with “a sparkle in his eyes and slight smirk on his smile.”
Thomas’ brother was sent to Iraq at age 18, returning last year just after Thomas had left for boot camp. Thomas missed his own high school graduation ceremony because he was so eager to start training.
More than anything, Thomas wanted to join the Rangers, a specially trained and equipped light infantry unit that can deploy anywhere in the world with 18 hours’ notice. Known for executing complex, lethal operations, the Rangers are the Army’s premiere raid force, often the first to storm an airfield or other key terrain. Their creed proclaims that “as a Ranger my country expects me to move farther, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.”
Thomas’ brother told him that he wouldn’t make the Rangers, that the screening and training were too demanding. But that motivated Thomas even more, and he immersed himself in boxing and martial arts to get in shape.
After completing 15 weeks of intensive training, he was sworn in as a Ranger, donning the special tan beret two weeks before he turned 18. The Army told him that he was the youngest to join the special regiment.
On the day he was deployed, Thomas sent her a dozen roses. “I love you with all my heart,” he wrote on a card. “Don’t be worried when I’m gone. I’m with the best and I’ll be safe. Love, your son Kris.