A Point Breeze native returned from a one-year Middle East naval stint with more appreciation for independence.
Because she developed a grateful demeanor as a child, Sereda Thompson considers being a petty officer first class for the U.S. Navy a primary way to address equality and humility. The former Point Breeze figure has devoted nearly one-third of her life to protecting the United States and its allies, earning increasing praise from her family while keeping her ego grounded.
Her proud relatives reveled Nov. 2, as the 27-year-old reunited with them following a one-year mission in Kuwait and Afghanistan as a member of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“I’ve been back for only a few days, but I’ve already noticed I’m more humble and appreciative,” the former resident of the 1500 block of Dickinson Street said Nov. 8 at Four Corner Crusade for Life Community Baptist Church, 1700 Tasker St., where her uncle, Rev. Anthony Stevenson, often led their clan in praying for her safety. “I understand a bit more about my place in this world and what helping others does for the doer and the receiver.”
Thompson aided inhabitants of the aforementioned foreign lands by performing customs, guard and patrol duties. Kuwait, which gained international attention during the 1990-91 Gulf War, involved little worry, but Afghanistan, the site of American’s longest running war, which began Oct. 7, 2001 as retaliation for the al-Qaida terrorist faction’s role in the 9/11 attacks, tried to weaken her resolve.
“Many [Afghani] citizens have a heavy dislike of Americans, and the mistreatment of so many groups, including people who are indentured servants, made it a frightening location,” the West Philadelphian said of her stationing in the country’s Bagram District.
Thompson often breathed stifling air and encountered decaying animals, while also hearing of sexual assaults and suffering neglect from Afghani military personnel because of her gender.
“We definitely dealt with a different culture that, like all others, has good and bad aspects, and though I can’t comment on my perceptions of America’s mission, I can say we’ve tried to let the people know we’ll have their back and will maintain their protection in war or peace,” she said of the International Security Assistance Force, of which the United States is a member, and its plan to withdraw most military forces from Afghanistan by the end of ’14.
Thompson had figured she would remain abroad until next spring but received an early discharge last month primarily to tend to her 4-year-old daughter Arieyanna’s medical issues that she declined to discuss. Though she might have to report to Japan in April, she again is loving her time as a civilian, with her circuitous homecoming drawing tearful kith and kin.
“I had numerous stops before landing in Philadelphia, but none of that mattered when I saw everyone,” Thompson, who retrieved her offspring from a relative in Atlanta Monday, said of trying to regain normalcy.
During her deployment, she kept in contact through Skype. The device, which she deemed her “best friend,” countered Afghanistan’s postal strike and diminished stress by reuniting smiling faces.
“She has always meant so much to us,” grandmother Belle Williams said. “A life serving our country is something Sereda has wanted and has lived for some time now. Thank God she is safe.”
“Family, and we have a big one with people in 27 states, helps people to see how blessed they can be,” Stevenson added. “In many ways, Sereda’s return made for a life-changing moment because there is just so much to be proud of when we can show and receive love.
If Thompson ends up journeying to Japan next year, she would be making her second stop in the Land of the Rising Sun. The island nation initiated her dutiful existence, as she served there right after completing basic training at Great Lakes, Ill.’s Recruit Training Command Center. Her time in the Midwest followed a stint in Orlando, where she joined the Navy in ’04.
“After high school graduation, I was looking for direction, and Florida gave me insights so I chose to follow the example of a few relatives and joined the military,” Thompson, who had initially believed the Air Force would yield her patriotic vocation, said.
She had moved to the Sunshine State after finishing high school in North Carolina. Her secondary success built on impressive achievements forged as a student at George W. Childs School, then 1541 S. 17th St., now 1599 Wharton St., and at other locations, including Society Hill’s Center for Economics and Law Charter School through which she participated in Temple University’s Young Entrepreneur Program. The initiative rewarded her with a Certificate of High Accommodation, which Thompson used as motivation to obtain an associate’s degree at Central Texas University.
“I knew I had to make greater use of my childhood dream to be a business owner,” she said.
She realized that vision during stationing at Fort Dix, N.J. The area soil came as a welcome change for Thompson, who also aided missions in Korea, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Hawaii and California. Four months before deployment to the Middle East, she opened two West Philly day care centers and is operating with a philosophy that she is looking to instruct the children of working citizens just as her family and friends taught her daughter during her absence.
Thompson likewise doled out protection during her one-year stay in the troubled countries and received a great amount, too, from her colleagues. As she had suffered a health scare when an ’05 examination revealed since treated cervical cancer cells, which in their infancy kept her from serving in Iraq, she knows her experiences, good or bad, and acquaintances give her strength on her lifelong journey.
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