Renee Thomas is a 59-year-old architect and lighting designer living in Des Moines, Iowa. She grew up in the Bay Area of California, so she has always been drawn to the water.
But Thomas also is well aware of the ocean's fury. Like many, she watched in horror when the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina and water flooded neighborhoods, forcing people to await rescue on roofs and highway overpasses.
Witnessing the desperation and the kindness of strangers that followed in the path of Katrina — as it does so most disasters —Thomas made a decision.
When she got the chance, she would be one of the rescuers reaching a hand to people on roofs and highway overpasses. In the glow of CNN’s 24-hour Katrina coverage, Thomas vowed to join the U.S. Coast Guard.
Renee joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary in 2011. This is a civilian volunteer force. She has risen to the rank of flotilla commander, roughly equivalent to the rank of lieutenant.
On Thursday, Thomas got her opportunity to be one of those good Samaritans when she shipped out to Coast Guard District 8 headquarters in New Orleans.
She’s working with fellow Coast Guard members to prepare and coordinate search and rescue efforts in response to Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms recorded in Atlantic waters, which could make landfall in Florida as early as this weekend.
The people she has a hand is saving are unlikely to care that Renee is transgender.
When I’m on a search-and-rescue mission, the job of rescuing people in distress comes absolutely first. I’m not individually concerned with who you voted for or where you go to church. My only concern is that you are in trouble and that I have the skills — and my organization has the skills — to do something about saving your life.
In my interaction with the Coast Guard, I’ve seen that we represent America in every way, shape and form, and that we understand that diversity is our strength. To us, diversity is not a buzz word — it is a commitment.
An architect by day, Thomas is an Iowa-licensed EMT with specific training in pre-hospital trauma life support and advanced medical life support, she said.
Regardless of the feelings I have with respect to the president’s determinations, the president is the top of my org chart. I’m cognizant of that relationship and the office of the president and I give it the respect that is commensurate with that position.
My personal feelings are really just that: personal. And, right now, there is no time to entertain those. I have a job to do, and I’m being counted on to do it.