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Sgt. Maj. Thomas helps Camp Pendleton personnel ‘Stay Moto’

On Thursdays and Fridays, people entering Camp Pendleton through Fallbrook’s Naval Weapons Station gate don't have a choice – they're going to get a dose of "Moto."

"Moto" is the abbreviation Marine Sgt. Maj. Mykul Thomas (Ret.) uses for motivation, a word he lives by. Motivating people to have a great day is what motivates Thomas to stand at the gate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., every Thursday and Friday, checking credentials and delivering motivational words to everyone who drives into the Marine Corps base via Ammunition Road.

To witness Thomas in action – twisting around to wave his hand at people who honk or give him a shout out while leaving the base while simultaneously communicating with people entering it (they all want a little “Moto”) – is like watching an orchestra conductor/inspirational speaker.

Examples of Thomas’ encouraging exchanges, all delivered in a friendly tone through a big, bright smile: To four young Marines: “How you doing my motivators? Continue to walk in integrity. Good to see you. Have an awesome Thursday. Stay Moto!”

To a young lady who works as a cashier in the MCX store: “You are amazing my friend. I want you to have a great day, and know that you are awesome.”

To a young marine: “Motivator, you know you’re good my friend. Have a good day. Ooh Rah.”

To a man who enters with a frown (and appeared determined to have a bad day) but departs with a grin: “My friend, it’s another awesome Thursday. Go on and enjoy your day sir. All right Moto.”

To a young lady, whose face turns from stoic to smiling: "How are you doing dear? You know you’re great, so I want you to have a great day, OK.”

To a man he hasn’t seen in a long time and hardly recognizes due to significant weight loss: "How you doing?" The man responds, “I’m alive.” Thomas says, "It’s been awhile.” Man says, “I’m hanging in there. I might have defeated cancer. I won’t know until next month.” Thomas says, “I believe you have man. I’m serious. But keep remaining positive.” The man says, “I have to man.” Thomas says, “You are my motivator.” The man says, ‘No, you are.”

Thomas’ fan club runs deep, ranging from the people who bring him sweets (donuts and strawberry shortcake), to the pregnant young lady that invited him to her C-section (“do you believe that?” asks Thomas with his infectious laugh), to UPS driver Jeff Sigstad (who says “When he retires we need to put up a statue, and I'll donate money to make it happen”), to a seasoned Marine colonel (“He’s the greatest”).

“Oh gosh, he makes my day every single time I come through the gate,” said Irma Leal, the MCX cashier. “He recognizes my car and he knows what to say. He’s a good man. Honestly, he always has a smile on his face and he always makes everyone’s day.”

“He’s always got a great attitude,” said Mary Anne Bronza, Chief Warrant Officer 2 who works at headquarters regiment with first MLG. “It’s definitely a great start to the day. Especially when you come onto a military base and you’re in the Marine Corps, it’s a rough day. You’re coming in and not expecting to see smiles, so just having that extra motivation and that nice little greeting, it really helps.”

Thomas, 53, became a Federal Police Officer upon retiring from the Marines and started working at the Naval Weapons Station gate in 2011. Thomas said he was pretty low key when he started the job.

"I haven’t always been like this," said Thomas. "I would see people coming through, down and out about going to work, and I started smiling. I saw how that affected people. Then I started adding, ‘Stay Moto.’

"I do what I do because I love people,” continued Thomas. "Plus, I was always told, it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.”

Thomas, the second-youngest child in a family boasting three boys and five girls, was raised by his mother.

"My father passed away before I was two," said Thomas. "My mom always taught me to respect people, period."

Thomas said he and his mother, who died eight years ago, would often laugh about what prompted him to join the Marines.

"I was 17-years-old and I did come into the house late one night," said Thomas. "And she told me, 'I don’t ever want you to come into this house late again!' And it was that night that I said to myself, ‘nobody’s going to tell me what to do – I’m going to join the Marine Corps.' I was in for a rude awakening."

After getting over the initial shock that he had failed miserably in finding a place where "nobody's going to tell me what to do," Thomas settled in nicely in the Marines.

"My time in the Marine Corps really set a solid foundation in my life," said Thomas. "My highlight was when I was a drill instructor, turning young men into Marines."

Thomas, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, works out five to six times a week. His fitness routine has helped him bring awareness to a dark subject – the high suicide rate of military veterans.

"It's called #22 KILL and refers to the (2012 Veterans Affairs) report that 22 veterans commit suicide a day," said Thomas. "One of things it asks is that we do 22 pushups to honor those who serve and to bring awareness to veteran suicide prevention by posting a video of ourselves doing the 22 pushups on Facebook and other social media."

On a Saturday in April, Thomas and a large number of members of the Mendleton Foundation, a military support group, went to Oceanside Beach and did 22 pushups in unison in hopes of attracting an audience. The event did exactly what it was supposed to do as beach goers and tourists stopped and took notice of the impressive display, pulling out cameras and, more importantly, asking questions and gaining knowledge of veteran suicide prevention.

When asked why he thought so many veterans commit suicide, Thomas said, “What I believe happens is a chemical imbalance, caused by a traumatic experience or something they’ve seen. That, combined with just the pressures of life, gets them to a point where they’re so depressed that they're not thinking straight, not reasoning straight. And instead of speaking or finding an outlet, they’re holding these things in and it’s just crushing them, crushing them to a point where it (suicide) is their way of ending the pain.”

Thomas said other veterans simply feel lost.

“It was stated that many veterans, once they get out of the military, feel like that have nothing to live for,” said Thomas. “I tell these veterans that you are so important, and that life is so valuable, and that you do have purpose. That you do have a mission, and we do care about you. There is someone that you can talk to, that is qualified to assist you in your situation.”

Thomas added that we can all help veterans.

“It's nice to know you’re appreciated, and when somebody does say something, it makes you feel good,” said Thomas. “A simple thank you can alter someone's life.”

 

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