After attending Kalamunda Senior High School, the budding air traffic controller never imagined she would end up as group captain in the Air Force for Australia in Afghanistan with 100 troops in her charge.
“It is the equivalent of the rank of full colonel,” she told an audience of more than 120 people as the National Seniors Australia (Kalamunda) monthly guest speaker.
As commander of the radar unit at Kandahar Airbase, then-Wing Commander Thompson was the first Australian female officer to command a task group in Afghanistan.
“I actually had my birthday there and turned 50 as well,” she said.
With more than 100 troops under her command, including 25 US soldiers, Group Captain Thompson was stationed in Kandahar in 2008.
Her role was as the air battle manager and she was in charge “of running the air wars” by radar.
“We had to drop ordnance on enemy sites,” she said.
“We had bomber aircraft and spy planes and surveillance capabilities and we controlled the aircraft from the airbase.”
Group Captain Thompson said that the conditions were tough, with 55 degrees in the summer and snow in the winter at the camp.
“The camp was 250m off the runway and it was noisy all the time,” she said.
“There were 70 bombs dropped on the site while I was there and they were all small 107mm rockets.”
She said they were quite a primitive weapon and the sewer treatment plant copped the most hits.
Commander Thompson said one of the most significant happenings on camp was the ramp ceremonies when a soldier was killed in action.
“We would gather to line the pathway and farewell the coffin in a Hercules to be flown home,” she said.
“You could get up to 14,000 personnel lining the path.”
The camp only had alcohol twice a year – on Christmas and Anzac Day.
“You are concerned for your staff because those with children obviously miss them and also you have to manage the physical and emotional and mental exhaustion,” she said.
“I do believe the issues of PTSD are being managed well and recognised in New South Wales, but servicemen and women have to recognise the symptoms they are suffering.”
Commander Thompson said when she returned to Australia it took some time to re-adapt.
“You become hyper-vigilant in that environment,” she said.
“I do think war is pointless but I also believe it is inevitable.”
Having retired four years ago, Commander Thompson said she still lived a very busy life.
“I still attend my local Anzac Day service and it’s good to meet up with colleagues,” she said.
Commander Thompson said women who were in senior roles did not tend to blow their own trumpet and it was so important “our contribution is recognised and the significance of women in war will start to change”