The Hernando County School Board has a tradition of recognizing outstanding individuals who contribute to the educational community in exemplary ways. Among the outstanding educators and staff members within the Hernando County School District, Mark Thomas, a teacher at Winding Waters K-8, has been selected as the October Staff Veteran of the Month. This prestigious award serves to honor Thomas’ dedication, service and commitment to both his country and the field of education.
Mark Thomas, currently a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Winding Waters K–8, is a remarkable individual who has not only excelled in the educational field but also has a rich history of service to his country. To introduce Thomas at the award ceremony, Winding Waters Administrator Carrie O’Roark shared a heartfelt tribute to his achievements and character.
O’Roark began by highlighting Thomas’ academic accomplishments, noting that he holds a master’s degree in education from Indiana University. However, what truly sets him apart is his family’s long-standing tradition of military service. He is the fourth generation of Thomas men to serve in the military, a legacy that has shaped his life profoundly.
Thomas’ journey into military service began when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1979, immediately after graduating from high school. He completed his boot camp in Orlando, Florida, and trained in Navy aviation flightline firefighting in Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was then assigned to NAS Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, where he became a part of U.S. Patrol Squadron 31. This squadron operated Lockheed P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft, which are notably recognized for flying through the eyes of hurricanes to collect data. These aircraft were also used to search for the Titan submarine that was lost during a dive to explore the Titanic.
Thomas’ responsibilities at NAS Moffett primarily consisted of launching and recovering these aircraft, as well as providing ground support and communications. He also had the unique task of driving the six-ton tow trucks to move these enormous 116-foot-long planes with a 99-foot wingspan from the flight deck to hangar one. Mark was honored with the task of leading the transport crew in VP-31, successfully moving these aircraft with only 18 inches of clearance beyond each wingtip.
Thomas was actively involved in training at the Lakehurst hangar, which was famous for housing the Hindenburg, and carrying out daily firefighting drills on the exact spot where lightning struck during the disastrous event in 1937.
Today, Mark Thomas proudly stands as a U.S. veteran who recites the pledge at Winding Waters K-8 daily. His resilience, leadership and dedication are evident not only to his colleagues but also to his students, who share his passion for math and science and enjoy his sense of humor.
Speaking at the podium, Mark Thomas expressed his gratitude for the recognition. He wore several pins to the event, each symbolizing the service of his family members. Mark wore pins for his uncle Vincent (KIA), his father, and his son, who served in the Marine Corps. He also wore a Navy pin and another in honor of his grandfather’s service. Mark expressed his pride in supporting the Folds of Honor, an organization that provides scholarships for the children of veterans to pursue higher education after their military service.
On a more personal note, Thomas took a moment to thank the Hernando County School Board and all those involved in providing excellent insurance opportunities for Hernando County’s educational staff. As a two-time cancer survivor, Mark shared his experience of having undergone kidney surgery in 2011 and, more recently, facing another tumor in his right kidney.
Thanks to the support and insurance opportunities provided by the school board and taxpayers, his medical costs remained manageable, sparing him from the financial burdens many others might have faced.
Overall, Thomas’ dedication to both his students and his country serves as an inspiring testament to the power of education and service. He embodies the principles of leadership, resilience and commitment, making him a valuable asset to the Winding Waters K-8 community and the Hernando County School District. Mark Thomas, the October Staff Veteran of the Month, stands as an outstanding example of what one individual can achieve through dedication and determination.