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Sergeant Stephen Thomas

Stephen Thomas was born in Scarborough, Ontario. As a child, he had a passion for athletics and competition. Thomas joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on his 18th birthday, and went on to serve two tours in Afghanistan. He was awarded the Medal of Bravery for his actions in Kandahar.

Scarborough, Ontario

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Afghanistan
Sergeant Stephen Thomas

Joined

2000

Postings

  • Toronto, ON

Deployments

  • Afghanistan

Stephen Thomas attended Birchmount Collegiate in Scarborough where his interest in the CAF sparked following a wrestling match. “I had defeated my opponent, who was much larger, and after our match he told me ‘you can’t do what I do.’ Turns out he was part of the Army reserves at the time. So, I joined the Forces on a dare.”

Thomas found himself enlisting on the day of his 18th birthday in 2000. “I truly didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but it was right up my alley. I have always loved being outdoors, I enjoyed the team aspect and the physical challenges.” After completing basic training, Thomas was assigned to the 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery.

He reached the rank of Master Bombardier and completed his first tour of duty overseas in Afghanistan, as part of Roto 0 Task Force Kabul in 2003-04. While in Kabul, Thomas had the opportunity to participate in joint training exercises with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QOR).

“It’s not a one unit army. Everyone is for the same cause – the success of the mission.”

“This type of activity allows for information exchange, and a window into our two different worlds. It’s not a one unit army. Everyone is for the same cause – the success of the mission. So that’s one thing I really enjoyed, the training exercises between the different units,” says Thomas.

After spending time with members of the QOR, Thomas realized his skillset and attitudes may be better suited for this regiment. “Most of the Queen’s Own members grew up in the Greater Toronto Area and I had much more in common with them. I was very eager, always ready to get the job done… with the Artillery, there is a limit with how up, close and personal you can get to the action.”

Thomas officially joined the QOR in 2005, as a member of its parachute squadron. “There was a real sense of home. A fluid transition with no hiccups, and I was able to pick up right where I left off, just with a new team.”

Thomas was deployed for a second time in Afghanistan shortly after joining his new team. This time he was sent to Kandahar. He quickly noticed major differences between the two regions.

“When we got to Kandahar, it was like the Wild West. It wasn’t as civilized and developed as Kabul, and the landscape was sparse.”

The differences were not just geographical, but also in the style and level of threat. “While in Kabul, it was always about minefields and stick bombs, or indirect fire threats. In Kandahar, it was completely different. We were targeted through ambushes, improvised explosive devices… it was a threat in a different form.”

On 3 October 2006, Thomas’ life changed in an instant. “Intelligence had provided a heads up that someone was gunning for us in a form of a taxi cab. This was nothing new, we heard this every day.” Upon entering the city centre, a taxi cab exploded, and Thomas’ vehicle was swallowed by smoke.

Thomas and his driver took a moment to focus, knowing they had to make a move fast. “We were preparing for dead bodies. But I knew we had to get to the burning vehicle.” The burning vehicle in question was a CAF G-Wagon, which was travelling just in front of Thomas and his driver. After re-gaining his composure, the driver of the G-Wagon shared a vital piece of information with Thomas – there was critical information related to Operation Medusa in the burning vehicle.

Thomas retrieved five fire extinguishers, but only two worked. Upon limiting the flames enough that he could enter the burning vehicle, he retrieved the laptop – but once he got in there, he realized the vehicle was loaded with high explosives. Thomas proceeded to grab as many explosives as possible so the vehicle would not explode in an instant, and told those nearby to evacuate the area.

His helmet caught fire, and as flames began rolling inside the vehicle, Thomas knew it was time to retreat.

Nearly a minute later, the vehicle exploded. 

Thomas and his colleagues surveyed the area, helped locals who required medical assistance, and made it back to base. At the time, he thought he was just doing his job. “That’s the way I looked at it.”

“I had no idea of the significance.”

Thomas was in Nova Scotia on a course when he learned he would be awarded with the Medal of Bravery. “I had no idea of the significance…everyone was freaking out, in a positive manner.”

Upon returning home to Scarborough, Thomas was informed he was the first soldier in the Greater Toronto Area to win the Medal of Bravery in a combat role since the Korean War. “That’s when it really hit me.”

Thomas continues to serve with the CAF as a Sergeant. As part of his role, Thomas speaks with youth in schools across the Greater Toronto Area, sharing his story, and educating the younger generation on the Afghanistan conflict. “Some of the soldiers who have come through the Queen’s Own Rifles remember my presentations from years past. It’s pretty cool to see it come full circle.”

“A lot of people don’t realize the bubble we live in… we don’t have a whole world perspective.”

Looking back on his service overseas, Thomas points to how it has changed his views and values. He hopes that by sharing his story, Canadians will continue to appreciate the rights and freedoms we are accustomed to. “A lot of people don’t realize the bubble we live in… we don’t have a whole world perspective. We live, we work, we come back home. There’s no real idea of the suffering some parts of the world are going through.”

If you a Veteran, family member or caregiver in need of mental health support, the VAC Assistance Service is available to you 24/7, 365 days a year at no cost. Call "1-800-268-7708 to speak to a mental health professional right now.


Where they served


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