By Marcie Smith West
Thomas Gadbois had already spent nine years as an active-duty Marine, but it was during his first year working for the USO in Okinawa, Japan, that he realized his calling in life.
Gadbois was nervous to start his job as a duty manager at USO Kadena.
“I had always been rather reserved, and I wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable in such a public-facing position,” he said. “By day two [on the job], I finally knew what I was supposed to be doing. From that point on, I was all in. I would serve the military community and the United States for the rest of my career.”
Today, Gadbois is currently serving as a regional operations manager for the USO Pacific – a job that he loves – but it’s hard to believe that working to support our nation’s military wasn’t his plan from childhood.
Growing up, Gadbois learned about devotion to serving others from his parents, who prioritized caring for their family. His grandfather served in the Korean War and his father served as a Marine in the Vietnam War, but Gadbois himself never felt pressured to join the military.
However, when he graduated high school, Gadbois was still undecided about his life plan, and so he followed his father’s advice - and footsteps - and decided to enlist in the Marine Corps, hoping his time in service would help him find direction.
The Marine Corps’ values of “honor, courage, commitment” resonated with Gadbois in bootcamp. They built on the values he had learned from his father, and he found that the best part of being a Marine was the camaraderie with his fellow service members.
“Each military branch has unique traditions and [a] community created from serving, but the Marines are just different,” USO Okinawa Area Operations Manager Henry Hughes said, when talking about Gadbois.
“If you ask a group of Marines to help bring things into the center, every last one of them drops what they are doing to help. Thomas [Gadbois] is the same way.”
Paul Pisano, USO Pacific director of operations, agreed, explaining that he knew Gadbois would be the right person to lead the USO’s Pacific region expeditionary programs because he knew how Gadbois was trained in the Marine Corps.
“He knows when and what to provide to service members in the training environment. He has the creativity to reach those units no matter where they are in the world.”
Gadbois’ practical insight, commitment to the USO mission and steadiness in the face of challenges have made him an asset to the USO and to members of our nation’s military in times of need.
For example, Gadbois began working for the USO shortly after the USS Fitzgerald collision in 2017, when the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine merchant vessel, killing seven U.S. sailors. The USO immediately responded, providing pier-side support, internet connectictivity, and care packages. Afterwards, Gadbois met with USO senior leadership with ideas on how to customize the organization’s expeditionary support during a crisis response.
Just two months later, this expeditionary support plan, in part designed by Gadbois, would be tested when the USO responded to yet another crisis with the USS McCain collision. Gadbois was on a plane to Singapore within hours to set up an expeditionary USO site in response to the USS McCain, where service members could connect to family back home. It was the first time many were able to call home after the collision.
The following year, in 2019, Gadbois spent several weeks supporting USO Guam’s response to the damage from a super typhoon that made landfall in Tinian and Saipan. The year after, Gadbois organized and coordinated shipments to the USS Theodore Roosevelt at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the aircraft carrier suffered an outbreak of the virus. To this day, Gadbois remains a critical part of the ongoing Oasis support on the island of Guam, which allows deployed service members to relax and remain safe from COVID exposure.
Above all, Gadbois is a supportive co-worker and USO teammate, always professional and willing to help. He has brought the commitment he learned in the Marine Corps into every aspect of his life and to every interaction he has with service members on behalf of the USO.
It is this commitment to the military community that has allowed USO staff and volunteers in the Pacific region to do even more to support the American service members and military families.
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