WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo --
Closer to Times Square than Kabul, Airman 1st Class Marquise Thacker was working in a sprawling tent city, surrounded by Afghan evacuees and loving life.
“I’m really glad that I did that because it’s historic what we did there. It’s never been done before,” she said from Whiteman Air Force Base a week after returning home. “And I don’t know if I’ll ever get the opportunity to work with the guests or be around guests like that.”
The Missouri Air National Guardsman was deployed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey in support of Operation Allies Welcome, a national effort to support vulnerable Afghans resettling in the United States.
Her duties while deployed had nothing to do with planning and scheduling flights, like she does at home station. While the 34-day temporary duty may not be the longest activation she’ll see in her career, the people she met and the experiences she had made this TDY one she’ll remember for a while.
“The [Air Force] people I met while I was there were awesome,” she said. “Coolest people I’ve probably ever met.”
The Seneca, Missouri, native’s journey to her first deployment might not have been a long one in terms of service time, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
She considered joining the Army National Guard in high school, but an honest self-assessment told her that she wasn’t emotionally ready. Fast forward to April 2019. She was now the spouse of an active duty Air Force service member and had decided to join the Air National Guard.
“It’ll give me the opportunity to go to different places possibly, and if I wanted to cross-train and switch jobs, I could try that if this wasn’t working for me,” she said. “As weird as it sounds being in the military, I felt like I had flexibility in what exactly I wanted to do.”
Thacker was emotionally ready, but not physically. She needed to lose 70 pounds to enlist. She reached out to a family friend who is a certified trainer, and she agreed to help whip her into shape.
The two of them went to work. First, it was just one day a week. Then it was two. Then it grew into a lifestyle. Eighteen months after that first workout, with countless miles, burpees and wall-balls completed, she had shed the weight and was at Basic Military Training. She had reached her goal.
For her husband, Aaron, watching his wife work so hard for something that came much easier to him was simply impressive.
“Extremely proud of her,” Aaron said. “When I saw that she was able to commit to losing the weight, that’s when I knew she would be able to go through with [joining the Air Force].”
One of the biggest decisions a prospective service member faces is what career field he or she wants to serve in. Thacker wanted to be firmly connected to the Whiteman mission; she wanted to be on the flight line.
As a maintenance management production apprentice, Thacker works as a traditional Guardsman on the flight line in the plans and scheduling office for the 131st Maintenance Operations Flight. Her focus is on the weekly flying schedule.
“On any part of this, you have to be on top of it because if you do something wrong, you can ground an aircraft,” she said, realizing just how connected that makes her.
Her husband has two years remaining on his enlistment, but they’ll be at Whiteman as long as he remains in the military due to his job. If he decides to leave the service, she said she’ll continue serving.
“I joined for a career, and that’s what I’d like to pursue,” she said.
Thacker doesn’t know what lies ahead in her military career, but she’s grateful for the opportunity she’s already had to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
“I didn’t think about the importance of what we were doing in New Jersey until you think about the big picture, what we were actually helping these people with,” she said. “Where they were coming from, why they were even in the United States now. “