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USS SAMPSON, Red Sea – As siblings grow up and lead separate lives it’s sometimes difficult to stay in touch. Add the extra separation of being in the military and deploying around the world and some family members are lucky if they ever see each other.
So when Marine Major Thomas Elders had the opportunity to visit his big sister, Navy Commander Teresa Elders, while they were both deployed on the high seas, there was no hesitation in trying to make it happen.
“This was a great opportunity that just happened to work out because of the proximity of our ships,” said Thomas, who is deployed as the assistant operations officer for 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima.
As USS Iwo Jima transited through the Red Sea it crossed paths with the USS SAMPSON, a U.S. Navy destroyer, where Teresa is currently serving as the executive officer. A tour of the USS Sampson was planned for some Sailors and Marines and Thomas was able to participate and see his older sister.
After a short helicopter ride on a Navy SH-60, Thomas landed on USS Sampson, gave his sister a hug and spent the next few hours catching up and learning about his sister’s role on the destroyer.
“Much of our conversation was focused on our careers and our time serving in the Navy and Marine Corps,” said Thomas.
Teresa even treated her brother to the VIP tour, even letting him sit in the Executive Officer’s chair.
Thomas and Teresa started their careers at the U.S. Naval Academy where they decided to carry on a family tradition of military service after their father served 20 years as a supply officer in the Army, their step-mother served in the U.S. Air Force and their mother served in the South Korean Army.
The Swedesboro, N.J., natives have a combined 30 years of service with Teresa serving 16 years and Thomas following close behind with 14 years.
“I went on a family cruise on USS Eisenhower when I was younger and fell in love with the Navy,” said Teresa. “I thought attending the Naval Academy would be the best means to join the Navy, and it was. I like being on the water, I wanted a chance to command a ship, and I wanted to lead Sailors.”
Thomas followed suit attending the Naval Academy two years later. “Attending the Naval Academy was a great way to get an education and enter the military to serve the Nation,” said Thomas, who chose the Marine Corps option while attending.
After graduating from the academy, Thomas and Teresa parted ways with multiple deployments taking them to far-off places like Japan, Australia, and Iraq, but never together.
As an infantry officer, Thomas spent most of his time on the ground while Teresa followed the surface warfare officer path spending most her time at sea.
Their chance meeting in the middle of the Red Sea was a unique opportunity to catch up and reminisce for a while.
“This was a memorable experience and it was great to see my sister in action aboard the USS Sampson,” said Thomas.
The Jersey siblings hope to meet up again for Christmas after they both return from their deployments.
Maybe their next reunion will be on dry land – no helicopter needed.