Renard O. Thomas – Iraq War Veteran – Valencia Resident

Renard O. Thomas, Taji, Iraq, September 2006. Courtesy photo

Word of Mouth

Once again, another local Veteran provided me input, by blurting, “Hey Bill, you need to interview Renard Thomas because he does a lot of good for Veterans at College of the Canyons”. I immediately called Renard and we met for several hours as I jotted notes about his military service and his life in general. I’ve known Renard for a long time and have always found him to be a delightful person.

Raised by a Single Mother

Renard O. Thomas was born July 14, 1971, in Culver City, California, but in his early years he lived with his maternal grandparents on their Georgia, Alabama 240 acre cattle farm. Renard was a product of a single mother whom Renard dearly loves. He told me, “My mother Lorine, a registered nurse, did an amazing job raising me under very challenging circumstances”. For several years, Lorine cared for Renard’s grandfather until he passed away in November 1989 and during that time Renard lived with his Aunt Janie Carter in her San Fernando Valley home.

Army Delayed Entry Program

Renard took public busses everyday attending James Monroe High School but at age 17 he chose to enlist in the U.S. Army via its delayed entry program. Renard departed for Basic and Advanced Individual Training July 19, 1989, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Renard promised Aunt Janie that he would earn his high school diploma, so during his rugged basic training after each exhausting day he attended night classes and earned his GED. He was determined to fulfill his promise. As Renard’s AIT concluded in November 1989, his beloved Grandfather Henry sadly passed away. Renard was focused on serving his country and doing something of significance, but alas he found himself in cooking school during AIT though he had selected the infantry. Renard was simply bewildered by the Army’s decision.

Human Guinea Pig

Renard, 2nd from left, Taji, Iraq June 2005. Courtesy photo

Following AIT, with the passing of his grandfather Renard desired to remain as close to family as possible and expecting to be assigned overseas, Renard volunteered for a unique assignment with the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts. Renard literally became a human guinea pig as he participated in testing combat rations and human performance under simulated environmental extremes including altitude, heat, cold, wind, etc. The requirement for improved combat rations led to groundbreaking developments in freeze-drying techniques. Improved body armor, new military parachuting technology, and enhanced military garments designed for a variety of environments are all ongoing efforts.

His Lord and Savior

At Natick, Renard subjected himself to a myriad of surreal tests on his body and mind. Tests included consuming a wide range of food designed to determine long shelf life of meals ready to eat (MRE’s). Renard said, “This was perfect for me because I love to eat!” However, Renard’s primary and much less enjoyable research which lasted six months involved testing how muscles react to extreme conditions. Leg muscle samples were taken before, during and after being subjected to harsh temperatures including cold water submersion. Renard said, “I toughed it out but the turn over rate was terribly high as most soldiers opted out”. While at Natick Renard took Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Renard told me, “Learning what Jesus Christ endured for us was awakening and life changing”.

Combat Training

In 1990, as a cook in AIT and despite his objections, Renard was assigned to Germany, but since he obtained a German driver’s license he began purchasing and delivering mess hall rations instead of cooking. During his first field artillery exercise at age 18 and noticing the rigors of combat training, it dawned on Renard that he must pursue his education. While in Germany, Desert Storm broke out sending Renard’s unit into 45 days of combat training, however that war quickly ended before their training even completed. In 1990, Renard earned his high school diploma as promised to Aunt Janie years earlier. In 1992, Renard transferred into Mechanized Cavalry at Fort Bliss, Texas, where his four 1/2 year Army service concluded and he was honorably discharged March 1, 1994.

Renard in a destroyed building, Taji, Iraq 2006.

Major Von Washington

While serving at Fort Bliss, Renard met Major Von Washington who became his mentor and close friend to this day. Renard often attended Church and had dinner with Major Von’s family as he slowly became a father figure to Renard. Renard grew up fatherless and Major Washington became a man he looked up to for advice and he once predicted, “Renard, one day you will become a person who will help many people”. It was another life changing moment for Renard. Upon discharge, Renard moved to nearby El Paso and shared living quarters with a friend as he contemplated his future. While in El Paso, he miraculously survived a horrific vehicle accident of which he was not at fault. Renard landed a job with UPS for a year and through the VA he became a medical supply company apprentice by day and evenings he worked in a marshal arts studio.

Renard and his pal John McAllister receive Army Commendation medals. Courtesy photo

Pursuing Higher Education

In 1997, Renard moved from El Paso to live with his mother in Valencia where he promptly attended College of the Canyons via his GI Bill earning his Vocational Technology Degree. Next month, Renard will graduate with honors from the University of Laverne with his Bachelors in Science of Organizational Management Degree. Renard also joined the U.S. Army National Guard until 2013 serving 22 years of active and reserves duty. In 2004, Renard attended Officer Candidate School (OCS) and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Later, Renard worked at Robinson/May Department store in ladies shoe sales and there, he met April Welch, whom he noticed was a quite a beauty queen. April, who Renard says, never saw a pair of shoes she didn’t adore, was a regular customer and soon they were dating. Though Renard cheerfully declared, “She made a move on me”. Unfortunately, April and her family moved to Oregon and they simply fell out of touch. Along the way, Renard was married a short time and had three beautiful children but sadly that marriage fell apart.

Flags at COC. Courtesy photo

Emergency Custody

During Renard’s rocky marriage breakup, he volunteered for duty in Afghanistan but when he also volunteered and took custody of his three children just days before deployment the National Guard changed his orders. Another soldier took Renard’s place which he felt horrible about. In Afghanistan, Renard’s unit lost a number soldiers killed and wounded to enemy IED’s and to this day he still harbors some guilt. In 2004, 2nd Lieutenant Renard Thomas’ unit deployed to Iraq where he led fuel convoys to support our ground troops. Taliban fighters often shot at their fuel trucks and avoiding IED explosives was considered the norm. Fortunately, Renard’s unit suffered no casualties.

Renard home on leave. Courtesy photo

Honorable Discharge

After his Iraq tour of duty concluded November 20, 2006, Renard, as a National Guard Company Commander, was assigned to Camp Roberts to train troops for Iraq service. During a stint at Fort Bliss, out of the clear blue, April contacted Renard. Meanwhile, College of the Canyons held his job and when he returned to Valencia, he and April began seeing each other. Renard was Honorably Discharged December 31, 2013 and his numerous military awards include the Bronze Star, three Army Commendation Medals, six Army Achievement Medals, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, etc.

Romance Blossomed

In December 2012, April chose to leave her Victoria’s Secret management position in Oregon and returned to Valencia and she surprised Renard with a phone call. Soon, they resumed their relationship though Renard’s hands were full raising three children, working at COC and performing National Guard duty. April was a blessing to Renard and his family and when he left for his annual two week training excursion, she stepped in to care for his children, which was a major responsibility. On Valentines Day, 2014, Renard and his best friend Alex Mendez double dated with their girlfriends to Valencia Hyatt Hotel’s Vines restaurant. There they hatched a plan they plotted many weeks in advance. During their fine meal, Renard took a knee and proposed marriage to April presenting her with the perfect diamond ring, completely overwhelming her. No sooner did April say yes, Alex took a knee and proposed marriage to his girl, Jennifer Gleason and as though it was preplanned the four were serenaded with a beautiful romantic song. Indeed, a glorious evening. On October 10, 2014, Renard and April were married at Valencia’s Tournament Players Club.

Renard and April at COC’s Silver Spur event in 2013. Courtesy photo

Achieving His American Dream

Through his own trials and tribulations handling life’s responsibilities as a military reservist, college student and provider for his three children, Renard became a perfect candidate to work at College of the Canyons. It was a natural transition for him to assist Veteran students as he personally experienced the full gamut of achieving higher education and pursuing his American Dream later in life as opposed to high school graduates. Renard began as a student services specialist as he worked his way up to Director of Veterans Resource Center managing a staff of five employees, seven part time employees and a substantial budget. Renard’s resource center is fully dedicated to assisting Veterans pursue their education, seeking VA support and acclimation back into our society. Having served over 2,300 Veterans, COC has become a major supporter of Veterans with their substantial budget, grants and scholarships. Though Renard O. Thomas is under 50 years of age, I believe he’s already earned a lifetime achievement award. God bless you Renard and thank you for your outstanding service to our country and our community.

Renard’s family at Disneyland, 2015. Courtesy photo

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