By David Brown, 1st Lieutenant, Texas State Guard
DALLAS - As a child, Harlan Thompson watched his father win respect and recognition wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army, and he vowed to follow in his footsteps. He told himself someday he would reach the rank of his distinguished dad. But after surgery left him unable to follow his dream and enlist in federal service, Thompson refused to give up.
“I just wanted to get as far as my dad did,” Thompson said. Now, Thompson, a native of Oklahoma City and a resident of Dallas, is set to become the highest-ranking enlisted soldier in the Texas State Guard.
As a young teen, Thompson first donned a military uniform as a member of the Civil Air Patrol. In high school, he joined the JROTC (the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) and followed up with membership in the ROTC while in college. But a teenage medical condition prevented him from making a commitment to federal service. That would not be the end of Thompson’s effort to follow in the footsteps of his father.
Almost 20 years ago, while teaching in Dallas, a colleague encouraged him to learn more about opportunities in the Texas State Guard, which was then rapidly professionalizing into what is now considered to be the premier state guard force in the country. Although many Texas State Guard soldiers have previous experience in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard, prior federal service is not a requirement to join. A prospective Texas State Guard soldier must, however, make a similar commitment to service, constantly training to extremely high military standards and prepared to be deployed statewide to help civil officials deal with emergencies.
During storms, periods of civil unrest, in search and rescue operations and border security missions, many have seen Texas State Guard soldiers helping to save lives and preserve property wearing familiar military camouflage–largely indistinguishable from that federal forces, save for the Texas flag patch on the right shoulder, a shield “T” patch on the left, and the words “Texas State Guard” on the chest, opposite their name tape.
“Like most people that join the State Guard, I joined to give back to the State of Texas. I love this state and I want to do what I can to help out. And the camaraderie...with all the federal veterans that I get to hang out with, it’s great. It gives me something that I felt I missed.”
It also gave Thompson the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream.
Thompson signed up as a private (E-1, in military parlance). In his 19 years in the Guard, Thompson has been deployed across the state in a variety of capacities, serving his fellow Texans during major storms including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Alex and Dolly. Proving himself in the field and through his commitment to leadership and continued military education, Thompson has risen through the ranks to Command Sergeant Major (E-9).
Two grades higher than that of his dad at retirement.
On June 25th, Thompson will be promoted to Command Senior Enlisted Advisor, the most senior enlisted soldier in the State Guard, taking a key role on the decision-making team led by Brigadier General Anthony Woods, Commanding General of the Texas State Guard. It is believed Thompson will then become the first enlisted soldier without prior federal service to rise to this most senior level in the history of the Texas State Guard. Though the event will happen almost a week after the rest of us celebrate Fathers’ Day, it will nonetheless hold special significance for Thompson, and his enduring bond with his dad.
Thompson’s father passed away in 2002.
“My dad was not exactly the most emotional person, but I think he would have said, ‘I’m proud of you’. Those four little words were the most important words to me,” Thompson said. Though Thompson’s dad retired as an E-7 (Sgt. 1st Class), the family posthumously discovered papers indicating others thought Thompson’s father to be “Sergeant-Major-of-the-Army material”.
“I feel I’m getting to do something (my father) wasn’t able to do in retirement…”
“Now my mom…she was the emotional one,” Thompson adds. His mother passed away in 2017. “She would have been excited. I know what she would have said: ‘that’s my baby right there!’”
Command Sgt. Maj. Thompson has most recently served as a drill instructor and senior enlisted official in the Direct Commission Officer Orientation Course, responsible for training incoming Texas State Guard officers. “At this level, now,” Thompson says, “it’s really all about doing what I can to give back to the State Guard by training my replacements…”
Not that he has any plans to ‘be replaced’ anytime soon. In addition to his service in the State Guard, Thompson is a Patrol Sgt. with the Collin College Police Department. Thompson says he considers spotting, training, and mentoring talent as an imperative for anyone in a leadership role.
The Texas State Guard is looking for others with a passion for leadership, learning, and public service. The Texas State Guard is one of three branches of the Texas Military Department, including the Texas National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard. More information about recruitment, benefits, and opportunities to serve can be found online at tmd.texas.gov/state-guard.