Former Sergeant to serve as Veteran Activities Director

By NIKKI SMITH,

Shortly after retiring from the military, Patricia Thompson found herself in a city far from her hometown with more free time than she was accustomed to. In Petal, she found a home and a new focus for herself, which is what she hopes to do for other veterans in the area.

Thompson was recently named Director of Veteran’s Activities at the city’s senior and veterans center.

In this role, Thompson will coordinate social and educational activities for veterans and their families at the center.

In 2008, Thompson returned to Camp Shelby after a 15-month deployment in Afghanistan. She chose to stick around in Petal because her daughter was still in high school and she wanted her to finish high school here.

This is when Thompson began to get involved in different activities in the community.

“I was becoming a hermit,” she said. “I was one of those veterans who hadn’t adjusted to getting out of the military. We sometimes feel that we have to go to work right away. I hit the wall. Hard. I had to readjust my values, because I went from a platoon sergeant to just a mom.”

While Thompson loves being a mother, she needed something else to focus on and take up the free time that she was not accustomed to.

“I started to get involved and was introduced to resources and activities in the veteran community,” she said. “They welcomed me into their community as if I’d been here my entire life.”

This activities with area veterans are what Thompson said keeps her focused and motivated, so now she says she wants to do the same for others going through similar situations.

“I want to give them support when they feel like there is no one else to support them,” she said. “I just want to give them what I didn’t have when I first got back.”

Thompson’s goal with the volunteer position is to bring the veterans community together, while also including their spouses and children.

“One of my main goals is to bring veterans community together with social gatherings and social outlets involving spouses and children,” Thompson said.

She plans to do that by employing the “battle buddy” system that she learned in the military. She described a “battle buddy” as someone who has the other person’s back and checks in on them.

“That way, everyone has a community of people making sure they have something to do, and that they’re okay,” she said. “And a place to socialize and mingle with other veterans in the community.”

Thompson said returning from deployment and retiring from the military put a strain on her because she was accustomed to having a tightly scheduled routine and something to keep her busy from the time she woke up until time to go to sleep.

This is why she says it is important to offer opportunities to get veterans out of the house and something to do.

She also plans to find ways to better utilize the senior center for veterans’ use, whether that be hosting movie nights or meals.

Thompson said she was approached by Tom Hardges and Valerie Wilson to take the position on. At the time, she did not know what that would entail.

“But then, I was like ‘Yeah! I can do that,’” she said.

She has served on the military advisory board for the City of Petal, as well. Thompson got involved to help the group make the city friendly to active duty.

“That way people won’t just a pass through and say, ‘Yeah, I was stationed there,’” she said. “So they will decide to stay here instead.”

Thompson has been brainstorming ideas for veterans since she was asked to take on the position. Some of her ideas include hosting an era night, which would mean veterans from specific wars or time periods would get together to talk.

“For example, Vietnam veterans could come and share their campfire stories and socialize with vets of that era,” she said.

Other ideas include a spouse’s night out, dances, story time for kids and movie nights. She said they will also likely host fundraisers to help cover the cost of the activities.

“Some things to just get us out of the house and more involved,” she said.

Thompson does not have a set schedule yet, as she is fitting her new position in with going to graduate school and the other organizations she is involved in.