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Collection Deborah Thomas
WVM ID Number OH 1070
Object Name Oral History
Title Oral History Interview with Deborah Thomas
Date 2007
Event Vietnam War
Narrator's Name Deborah Thomas
Interviewer's Name Terry MacDonald
Description In this oral history interview, Deborah Thomas, a Green Bay, Wisconsin native, discusses her career as a medical lab technician in the Air Force from 1972 to 1996.

Thomas talks about joining in order to use the G.I. Bill and her family's response to her enlistment. She describes basic training at Lackland Air Force Base (Texas), technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base (Texas), a combat training exercise in the "wilds" of Texas, and specialized medical laboratory training at Sheppard Air Force Base. Thomas reports she was the first female student to receive Phase Two training at the Medical Center in Keesler Air Force Base (Mississippi), describes her duties in the lab, and speaks of encounters there with Vietnamese pilot students, whom she had difficulty communicating with, and POWs returning from Vietnam. She discusses her assignment to Incirlik Air Base (Turkey) during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and, after hostilities ended, being questioned by some Turkish National Police members during an off-base sight-seeing trip. Thomas explains why she reenlisted.

While on assignment to the Philippines, she recalls serving as a bailiff at a court-martial and going into the backcountry with the Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP). She talks about assignment to a NATO base in Izmir (Turkey), keeping an eye out for European inmates of Turkish prisons, seeing Russian ships spying outside the American Consulate, and, while living in an apartment across from Izmir's Governor, making his bodyguards nervous with her odd-hours work schedule. Thomas describes how promotions work in Air Force ranks and analyzes her experience with the system. She details her assignment to Eielson Air Force Base (Alaska) where the medical lab an unqualified person in charge was causing staffing problems. She describes taking over responsibilities, earning the lab accreditation from the College of American Pathologists, being promoted by a four-star general, and taking arctic survival classes.

Thomas states she did not play politics enough to be promoted above Master Sergeant and so, according to the Total Objective Plan for Career Airmen Personnel (TOPCAP), she was retired. She examines the management structures and implementation of Total Quality Management in the medical corps. Thomas analyzes the difficulties caused by more women entering the military, including child care problems for deploying parents, difficulty in stationing increased numbers of married military members at the same base, women being excluded from certain duties, and lack of housing facilities during integration. She reflects on changes in the Air Force over her time of service, such as clothing changing from dresses to fatigues.

After retirement, Thomas describes furthering her education, joining American Legion Post 539, and keeping in touch with friends from service.
Extent and Medium of Description Analog audio recording: 2 audio cassettes (approx. 1 hour, 15 minutes)
Transcript: 27 pgs.
Reproduction Conditions / Copyright WVM owns copyright to this material. Contact the WVM Research Center for further information about Terms of Use.
Biographical Record Thomas, Deborah
Search Terms Vietnam War
Gulf War
Somali
Kosovo War