There was a reason to cheer on St. Thomas this Sept. 11. Friends, family and mentors of a 26-year-old aviator greeted his arrival aboard a Jet Blue aircraft arriving at the Cyril E. King Airport.
Officials at the Virgin Islands Port Authority led the entourage welcoming JetBlue First Officer Gleason Thompson Jr., who arrived on a flight from Puerto Rico, serving as navigation and operations support for pilot Ryan Atwood on their first flight together.
In the moments before the arrival, father Gleason Thompson Sr. said his son grew up loving boats and planes. He said that as a child, Gleason Jr. could look at a vessel on the water or an aircraft and recite the model number and describe some of their features. That interest grew over the years, he said, and was nurtured by family and family friends like the late Kirby Hodge from ACE Flight School.
As the flight touched down on the runway shortly after 2 p.m., close to three dozen people stood and cheered. Port Authority Airport Manager Jerome Sheridan greeted the young officer after the plane rolled to a stop in front of the terminal and escorted him down to the tarmac.
The crowd then escorted Gleason Jr. and his parents to an informal gathering in the airport lounge. A lot of activity was wedged into the brief stopover at Cyril E. King Airport. Gleason Jr. patiently posed with crowds, parents, friends, and those who knew him from his summer internship at the Port Authority.
Waiting for them was Thompson’s mother, Nayamka Miller, and father. His mom, a legislative staffer in the office of Senate President Novelle Francis Jr., thanked everyone who joined the Monday event.
“Today, Sept. 11, as we look at the last 22 years, has been a somber day — a very sad day. But now you can connect something wonderful to this day,” his mother said.
Her boss, the senate president, said he was also pleased to greet a young Virgin Islander on his way to making it big in aviation. Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe looked around the lounge, crowded with well-wishers.
“Everyone here wants a piece of you,” Dowe said. The VIPA chief then presented Atwood and his first officer a gift of watches with an image of the Virgin Islands set under the crystal.
At the end of the whirlwind stopover, Gleason Jr. said his move into aviation started with a summer camp program he attended at home on St. Thomas. Now that he’s spent a year as a JetBlue first officer, he said he’s content to serve as part of the team, assisting the pilot.
Atwood said he was impressed from their brief time working together so far. “We need pilots, and from anywhere they come from we will take them. St. Thomas just produced an amazing pilot like this,” he said.