An Army medical sergeant with Minnesota ties was killed Tuesday following an explosion in Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
Staff Sgt. Adam Thomas, 31, died from injuries caused by an improvised explosive device during operations, according to a Defense Department press release. His commander said in a statement that Thomas "epitomized what it is to be a professional Green Beret and soldier."
Thomas was with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Carson and had two previous deployments — one to Iraq in 2008 and one to Afghanistan in 2011. Army records list his home as Takoma Park, Md. He earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, four Army Commendation Medals and the National Defense Service Medal, as well as other accolades.
A family member declined an interview Friday.
Thomas went to elementary school in the St. Peter, Minn., school district before attending high school in Elgin, Ill. He graduated from St. Olaf College in 2007. He was an All-American swimmer, went to national championships in 2005, and was a conference champion in 2004, according to St. Olaf swim coach Bob Hauck.
"He was a great team leader for men and women and very inspiring," Hauck recalled. "One of my biggest memories of Adam is on the eve of our conference championships his senior year he gave a very inspirational and motivating talk to our team to get them ready for the weekend."
Swimming teammate Eric Tvedt said he trained with Thomas every weekday for three years and recalled him as "a hard worker" and "razor-sharp." He recalled a dance Thomas taught the team, complete with leg-slapping and screaming.
"Adam brought the New Zealand rugby team's cheer, the haka cheer, to the men's team, and we would do this cheer before the swim meet, so it was a sight to behold."
But Tvedt said Thomas cared about more than sports, which showed when the team ate meals together.
"He had a really unique passion for nature and for animals and he lived that out, and you were always learning when you were in his presence," he added. "Those meals together were full of factoids about nature and animals."
Thomas majored in biology and environmental studies.
"He was a very good student and just fun to have in class, enthusiastic, really took part in laboratories and field trips," said retired St. Olaf professor Gene Bakko, who was Thomas' academic advisor.
Thomas worked for a summer on the college's prairie and natural areas and helped out with controlled burns of the prairie grasses during the year, Bakko noted.
"I have a picture of Adam holding a little jumping mouse in his hand that was hopping away from the front line of a fire that was burning on the prairie," he said. Thomas "went in to rescue this little jumping mouse."