ST. GEORGE — A St. George man’s journey from homeless to hero is nothing but miraculous.
Growing up in a poor home with dysfunction and hostility a daily occurrence, Thomas Schwab, 20, had no choice but to endure the hardships of life.
“We moved around a lot,” he said. “We’d get kicked out of one place and have to find another. Life at home wasn’t the best. My father over the years had mental health issues that he didn’t address by not taking his medicine. As the years went on it just became worse and worse.”
Schwab added that as his father struggled to cope, the family grew increasingly poor. To add insult to injury Schwab’s mother lost her job during the economic crash in 2008.
“We continued to move from place to another with each one being more dreadful than the last,” Schwab said. “We did this until there was a breaking moment between my mom and my dad. Things escalated to a point that it wasn’t safe to be around my dad anymore.”
Before moving to Salt Lake City at the age of 15 with his mother, Schwab had missed five years of school from grades fifth to ninth.
As a child, he said that he loved school and regretted not having the opportunity to attend. As a youngster, he loved the History Channel more than he did the Cartoon Network.
“I had always loved academics,” he said. “Not being in school was always difficult, you might say boring. While all of my friends were at school, I was home alone.”
Although Schwab would read and do his best to learn new things, the family dynamics made it nearly impossible to have consistency in his life. He said it was a very “dreadful” time where he had no “reprieve or escape” from his father’s mental illness issues.
After Schwab’s mother left her husband, the family moved to Salt Lake where he managed to attend high school.
Toward the end of his junior year, the unthinkable happened: They became homeless. His mother was again without work, their family car had been stolen and they had been robbed.
“We were renting from my greatuncle, but he sold the house while we were living there, so we were basically homeless,” Schwab said. “Some of the darkest moments were sleeping in a bag in the freezing rain. Even then I would spend my time reading textbook after textbook. It was my only way to cope.”
Undeterred and not wanting a repeat an absence from school, Schwab made his way from the streets of Salt Lake to school every day, never missing class ever again.
While his teachers did not fully understand the seriousness of what Schwab was going through he persevered and tried to set an example to the rest of his classmates.
Although homeless, Schwab managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA.
“Although you might think you have no control and the direction of your life is out of your hands, the actions you take now will have such a great effect in the future, more than anything you can possibly imagine,” Schwab said. “Any adversity you are facing can be overcome with hard work and dedication.”
One day during his senior year, Schwab met with a Navy recruiter and had a “light bulb” moment.
Almost immediately his plans to attend the University of Utah or Columbia University change. He found a new direction in life, a direction that soon included an enlistment in the U.S. Navy and the dream to join the service’s Nuclear Power Program.
Finding elite “nuke” candidates is one of the highest priorities in the Navy’s recruiting mission.
When a candidate is identified, the Navy pulls out all of the stops. They offer generous signing bonuses of up to $38,000, automatic advancement to mid-level paygrades, accelerated pathways to senior ranks and a reenlistment bonus of up to $100,000, something Schwab plans on taking advantage as soon as enlistment is up in about six months and he signs for an additional two years in the service.
Schwab recently graduated at the top of his class from the Nuclear Power Program, earning a degree in nuclear technology.
Currently, Petty Officer 3rd Class Schwab is in specialized training to become a nuclear electronics technician. When his training is complete Schwab will oversee reactor operations on nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines.
“This was exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “I haven’t regretted making that choice one bit.”
With an eye toward his future, Schwab realizes that with the hands-on technical experience that the Navy will provide he will be instantaneously employable after leaving the service and be able to command a high-paying salary.
“Since joining the Navy I have found the stability that I have always wanted,” he said. “Training to become a Navy nuke has put me on a career path to success.”
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