If there's one word Captain Emily Bryant Thompson wants to get across to those attending Friday's Veterans Assembly at Jay High School, it would be service.
Thompson, now a member of the 45th Infantry Brigade, based in Norman, recently returned back to the states after a deployment to Afghanistan with the 1180 Calvary based in McAlester.
A 2010 graduate of Jay High School, Thompson has returned to her hometown to serve as a middle school art and journalism instructor.
She will speak to those gathered for the assembly in Bulldog Arena on Monday, Nov. 12, following the Jay Veterans Parade. That event begins at 10 a.m., in downtown Jay.
More About Thompson
Thompson was commissioned as an Oklahoma National Guard officer in 2014, after she graduated from Oklahoma State University. She will continue to serve with the Oklahoma National Guard until October 2020.
She chose the Oklahoma National Guard route, after her husband, Cody was deployed in 2013 with the 1220 Engineering Company out of Muskogee.
The Thompsons have one child, Hattie Jane who is 3. Thompson is the daughter of James and Erin Bryant, and sister to Hunter and Molly Bryant.
Serving her country
Sept. 11, 2001 was a defining moment for Thompson.
As a fourth grader watching the towers fall in the terrorist attack, Thompson recalled the unease and fear of her loved ones.
It was then, in that moment, Thompson knew she would join the armed forces. A desire to serve in a leadership role would eventually lead her to become part of the ROTC program at OSU.
"I wanted to take care of soldiers," Bryant said. "I believe and still do that an officer's job is to take care of their soldiers. I wanted to get educated and earn a commission."
Thompson said her grandfathers, Lewis Bryant and Don Murphy, who both served during the Vietnam War, were also part of her desire to serve.
"I truly felt it was God's plan for my life," Thompson said. "It's been a driving force for all of my life decisions. I prepared myself for military service."
Thompson said she will continue to serve in the Oklahoma National Guard with pride, for the remainder of her contract in 2020.
She believes the next phase of her life includes service to the students of Jay, as a middle school teacher, and service to her family.
Deploying as a mom
Thompson first learned she would be deployed to Afghanistan when Hattie Jane was 1 years old.
The summer she turned 2, Thompson left Jay to deploy to Kabul, Afghanistan.
Thompson said it was "gut-wrenching" to leave her daughter and husband at home.
"For every soldier there's a weird tug-of-war in their mind, where they feel responsible for their family, and their fellow soldiers," Thompson said. "It's a very hard balance to maintain.
"But when I raised my right hand, I knew my job was vital and it would be my life's work. But on the other hand, I created this little person."
Thompson said she knew her deployment would not only impact her husband and daughter, but also her parents and extended family.
"I truly don't know how it would have gone without the family support," Thompsons said, adding it was her family, along with her faith, that sustained her through the deployment. "I don't know how people get along with out either of those things."
Life in Afghanistan
Thompson said it was humbling to work in a country, where its residents primary worries included whether or not they would make it from home to work and back alive.
She also saw the hardships faced by Afghanistan residents, who were forced to burn their own waste and trash in order to stay warm.
In Afghanistan, Thompson was assigned to a unit whose mission included providing security for the forces within the capital city.
Her job, as the unit's logistical officer was to move all of the people and the equipment in and out of the country.
She was also tasked with helping ensure the unit's equipment was at operational readiness. She said when the unit arrived, the equipment was at 30 percent readiness. Within three weeks that number had increased to 85 percent.
A month into the deployment, Thompson became tasked with the logistics for a squadron of more than 500 soldiers, as well as a Danish contingent attached with the group.
"It was truly what I set out to do," Thompson said, saying that job allowed her to provide the basic needs for the soldiers under her command. "It was truly what fourth grade Emily wanted to do."
Thompson believes she's landed her "dream job" at Jay Middle School, adding that teaching is how she believes her calling will be lived out in the coming years.
Talking with students
Thompson said many people thank service men and women for their time in the armed forces, without really knowing what they do.
"I want to break down what it means to serve, to be removed from family and go to a strange place," Thompson said. "I want to talk about what it really feels like and means, wo they understand what they are saying when they say 'thank you.'"
It's a similar message Thompson often conveys while speaking with young women attending Oklahoma Girls State each spring.
Last year, she spoke to the group using FaceTime from Afghanistan.
"I'm thankful for the people who came before me, who allowed me to grow up as a woman with freedoms," Thompsons said.
She's also thankful her time in the Oklahoma National Guard gave her a chance to help others in Afghanistan.
She recalls how her translator looked at her, with tears in his eyes, imploring her to thank her husband and father for allowing her to serve.
"He said tell them thank you for me," Thompson recalled. "He said thank you for giving up their daughter and wife, so that maybe one day his daughter could go to school."
Thompson said she hopes students understand that service doesn't always mean doing things with comfort.
"You have to be willing to be uncomfortable, and provide benefits to someone else," Thompson said. "We are all called to serve in our own lives. It means something."
Thompson said she hopes students take away a call to service within their own communities.
"How much better would we all be, in this town we live in, if we gave in service," Thompson said. "Service is the purest form of love."
If You Go
• Jay Veterans Day Parade
A Veterans Day parade, hosted by the American Legion Post 195 and the Jay Chamber of Commerce, will take place at 10 a.m., Monday, Nov. 12, in Jay.
The parade route begins on First Street and will end at the Delaware County Courthouse. The event is designed to honor veterans.
• Veterans Day in Jay
Emily Bryant Thompson will be the guest speaker during the 2018 Veterans Day Assembly on Monday, Nov. 12, at Bulldog Arena on the campus of Jay Public Schools.
Thompson, who teaches art and journalism at Jay Middle School, recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard.
The event, which is open to the public, follows the annual Veterans Day Parade in Jay. A Hog Fry for veterans and their guests will follow the assembly at the high school.
• Veterans Day Art Show
Members of the Jay High School Art Club will host a Veterans Day Art Show at noon, Monday, Nov. 12, at the Jay High School Student Commons.
The show will be open during the meal following the parade and Veterans Day Assembly at the high school.
Veterans will have an opportunity to vote for the winner during the luncheon.
Additionally a volunteer will be on hand, to take photos of the veterans with their grandchildren and other family members.
For more information, persons interested may contact Kit Coughran at 918-314-5994.