By: Eyon Brown, communications intern
As another class of Terriers prepares for the final chapter of their Wofford experience, one student’s journey signifies a continuation of her family’s legacy in Wofford ROTC.
Elizabeth Thomas ’21, a senior sociology and anthropology major from Ninety Six, South Carolina, and recipient of Wofford’s Army ROTC merit scholarship, is a third-generation ROTC student at the college. Her father, Charles Thomas III’95, who “chose Wofford because of its ROTC program, not the other way around,” completed four years in the program. Her paternal grandfather, Charles Thomas II, a 1967 graduate, participated for two years before shifting his focus to his goal of attending medical school.
Both men experienced the rigor of Wofford ROTC, albeit with slightly different features than Elizabeth’s experience. For Thomas’ father, who always knew that he wanted to pursue a career in the military, the most significant difference between his time and his daughter’s time is the total number of cadets and the number of female cadets.
Originally, Thomas was a bit apprehensive about joining ROTC, having regarded it as “the thing that dad did.” After speaking with cadets during her visits to the college and to the Daniel Building, her eyes were opened, her interest was piqued and the course of her life was changed.
“That night I just did a bunch of research and decided to apply for the Army ROTC merit scholarship,” says Thomas. “After I was accepted to Wofford and won that Army ROTC four-year scholarship, I started ROTC stuff right away.”
Throughout her time in ROTC, Thomas had her father to lean on for advice and for casual discussions about the differences in the ROTC that they took part in. In her father’s time, cadets threw inert hand grenades on the lawn in front of Main Building for practice and carried real weapons on ruck marches through downtown Spartanburg. What was par for the course decades ago is no longer commonplace.
Weaponry aside, Thomas gleaned as much preliminary information as she could from her father, which she says paid off right away during her first-year.
“I knew more just about the culture and what to expect than some other incoming first-year students did,” says Thomas, who also says she was treated no differently than any other cadets. “But there’s definitely like a little bit of expectations, where it’s like I know what my dad did and I know what my grandparents are.”
Despite being treated the same as everyone else, Thomas did feel the expectation to at least attempt to replicate the things that her father once did as a cadet, including the Ranger Challenge. Since her father was the battalion commander for an entire year as well as the Ranger Challenge captain, she says that she felt the expectation to give it a try.
Capt. Jarryl Jenkins, assistant professor of military science and executive officer, says his experience with Thomas has been “awesome.”
“Cadet Elizabeth Thomas has been a true shining star within the ROTC program,” Jenkins says. “She can always be trusted with the most difficult of task and will excel. She brings with her confidence in her abilities and interpersonal tact to bring a team together to execute any assigned mission. Her personal connection to the program and its history is shown through her family’s dedication to the program.”
Charles Thomas says that because of his daughter’s achievements with Wofford ROTC, the Daniel Building has become that much more special to him.
“It’s really great to walk into the Daniel Building and see both my name and Elizabeth’s name on the wall there,” says Thomas. “It’s really just a feeling of tremendous pride, especially given the fact that I did not push either of my children in this direction. They chose this path completely on their own.”
After graduation, Elizabeth will be in the Adjutant General Corps on active duty in the Army. She will temporarily be at Fort Jackson for training but is still optimistic that there will be opportunities to continue her love of music as well. She’s a music and vocal performance minor.
Next fall, Thomas’ younger brother, Charlie, will arrive at Wofford as a first-year student on an Army scholarship with one special goal in mind: To get his name put on the same wall in Daniel alongside his father and his sister.