To celebrate Black History Month we will catch up with some Coast Guard Academy graduates who excelled while at the Academy and have enjoyed continued success after leaving the Academy.
Al Thompson ('98) was a record setting wide receiver for the Coast Guard Academy football team and he was part of both the 1996 and 1997 teams that won Freedom Football Conference (FFC) Championships and earned the programs only two berths to the NCAA Playoffs in the 90-year history of football at the Academy.
He still holds a trio or receiving records. He is tied for the school-record for most touchdown receptions in a game (3) while he also holds the record for most touchdown receptions in a season (9) and a career (24).
Thompson is currently a principal at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc., a government relations firm in Washington D.C. where he represents the firm's clients before the federal government, primarily congress. He handles the clients national security issues. He holds a Master's Degree from George Washington University.
After leaving the Coast Guard, he worked on the Committee on Homeland Security, U.S. House of Representatives. He worked on issues ranging from port security to nuclear terrorism. He then worked at the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) as Vice President of Global Supply Chain Policy. At RILA, Al represented the nation's largest retail companies including Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's Home Depot, Best Buy, Gap & Costco.
Thompson served five years in the U.S. Coast Guard. His career included leading law enforcement missions at sea and providing intelligence reports for senior policymakers. After the September 11th attacks, he served at the Coast Guard's Incident Command Center where he wrote prepared terrorism threat briefings in support of the largest port security operation since World War II. He is a recipient of numerous military and civilian awards.
After graduating from nearby East Lyme High School, Thompson recalls why he choose the Coast Guard Academy. "It was the best combination of academics and athletics of the schools that I applied to and I was also getting a chance to serve the country and develop skills that I continue to use in my life which appealed to me," said Thompson.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said that West Point taught him how to deal with failure and for Thompson, the Coast Guard Academy was no different. His struggles both in the classroom and on the football field taught him to overcome adversity and he said two important things he learned at the Academy were to be a good listener and that if you take care of people they will take care of you.
During his days as an officer in the Coast Guard, he was assigned to the USCGC Chase, in San Pedro/San Diego, Ca. and the Intelligence Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. On the CHASE he was part of a boarding/surveillance team that seized seven metric tons on cocaine (3rd largest in USCG history at the time). He says that standing intel watch the day after 9/11 and the months that followed were his greatest achievement in the Coast Guard.
"I really enjoyed my time in the Coast Guard. I learned a lot about myself and got to work with people from all ways of life," said Thompson. "While I do not see my service on the same level of the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am glad that I took the opportunity to do it."
Thompson, who studied Government at the Academy, hopes to continue his career in government relations and enjoys working in Washington despite the difficulties facing the country.
"The significance of Black History Month to me is that it allows for people to see that the African-American story is an American story," said Thompson, who is also proud of the fact that he is the first African-American graduate who is the child of an alumnus (Allen Thompson, Jr. USCGA '74).
Some of his favorite memories as a cadet took place on the football field. "I was lucky to play on the two teams that made the NCAA playoffs and developed lifelong friendships with my teammates. I love the game because it teaches teamwork and tests your physical and mental toughness. Attributes that are critical to a successful military career," said Thompson. "Not only was it great to achieve something historic, but I am proud to see my teammates have very successful Coast Guard and civilian careers."