Among the many awards of appreciation given to Gen. James D. Thurman upon retirement, there was one to elicit laughter from the crowd.
In recognition of his more than 38-year Army career, Thurman was named an admiral in the Texas Navy.
“I can go fishin’ on Stillhouse Lake now,” he said, laughing as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno handed him the award.
The Marietta, Okla., native retired from the Army in a chilly ceremony Friday at the flagpole outside III Corps Headquarters. He plans to live in the Central Texas area and remain active in the local military community.
Thurman’s 10 command positions include leading the 4th Infantry Division, which was previously headquartered at Fort Hood. Most recently, he commanded Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.
“Every day I wake up to make a difference,” Thurman said. “You make the biggest difference through leadership. ... The best part about leading is coaching, teaching and mentoring.”
Odierno, one of Thurman’s longtime friends, occasional neighbor and predecessor to leading the 4th Infantry Division, presided over Friday’s ceremony.
The chief described Thurman as committed, courageous, competent and a strategic thinker. When Odierno was deployed to Iraq, Thurman was the Army’s senior operations officer. Odierno said whatever he needed downrange to succeed, Thurman would provide.
“He’s there for you. He’s there to accomplish what’s best for our soldiers, what’s best for our country. He will do whatever he can to ensure that that happens,” Odierno said.
For many years, Thurman said he kept a rubber chicken on a wooden plaque in his office.
Soldiers, senators and foreign ambassadors would often ask him why.
“The lesson I learned from my grandfather and parents is simple: There ain’t no free chicken in the world,” Thurman said in his signature Oklahoma drawl, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
“You’ve got to work for stuff. Since my boyhood in Marietta, Okla., I been doing that.”
Odierno also joked about the sayings Thurman became known for including, “pig in a poke,” “You’re making me work like two majors passed over for promotion,” and “Son, your nose is cold.”
All joking aside, Odierno said the retiring general made significant contributions, particularly to training soldiers during his time as commander of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
“He understands what it takes to get our soldier ready for whatever we might ask them to do,” the chief said. “Your legacy will live on in those you’ve trained and touched.”
Wrapping up his remarks, Thurman said looking back, it was his education that had a significant impact on his career and life — making him a strategic thinker and leader.
“My education has enabled me to be able to solve complex and difficult problems — a skillset that has paid dividends throughout my career.
“I think it is very important to never stop learning no matter how old you get,”
Thurman is joined in Central Texas by his wife Delia, where they plan to get involved with the community.