It took Brig. Gen. Thomas James 28 years as an armor officer to get to the 1st Cavalry Division and the experience exceeded all expectations, he said.
“In only 11 short months, I was able to live the legend,” he said as he relinquished his post as the division’s deputy commander of maneuver during a ceremony Thursday on Cooper Field. “It’s been an amazing experience for me.”
A graduate of The Citadel, James came to the division from Fort Benning, Ga., where he served as the Armor School commandant and chief of armor for the Maneuver Center of Excellence. When he arrived, his enthusiasm for joining the First Team was palpable, and as he bids farewell, it’s clear he will hold his time in the division with high regard.
“I had the opportunity to wear the Stetson, ride the horses and feel the enormous pride that can only be felt in the cavalry,” he said.
During Thursday’s ceremony, Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, division commander, said James will be missed.
“While one side of me wishes you could have spent more time here with us, the other knows that the Army institution benefits from your new position and the influence you will have on so many soldiers,” Ierardi said.
James, who Congress confirmed for promotion to major general, is moving to serve as director of the Mission Command Center of Excellence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The organization is designed to provide a balanced and comprehensive approach to developing capabilities that advance both the art and science of mission command.
“Mission command is the warfighting function that synchronizes all of them — movement, maneuver, sustainment, protection. Mission command pulls all that together,” James said, adding the role also allows him to develop training strategy.
The past year, has given him plenty of experience to take with him, he said. James oversaw three training center rotations — two at Fort Polk’s Joint Readiness Training Center to prepare 2nd and 4th brigades for tours in Afghanistan, and one with 3rd Brigade at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
James said last month at Fort Polk, he spoke with Gen. Daniel Allyn, former 1st Cavalry Division commander and current commander of Forces Command about the work done by units at these centers.
“He said, ‘As leaders you’ve always got to visualize what’s the worst thing that could happen to me today and am I prepared for it?’” James recalled.
As the war in Afghanistan closes in the next 18 months, these combat training centers are where the Army will prepare for whatever the next mission will be, he said.
“The complexity of the future battlefield is going to be there and we’ve got to figure out how do we develop an organization that can handle it, that’s agile, adaptive and flexible, and with leaders that are agile, adaptive and flexible to be able to handle whatever is thrown against them,” he said. “So I think I’m excited about the opportunity to do that.”
Leader development through means other than combat will also take a leading role in the future Army, he said.
“It’s probably the most important thing we can do for our formations, because then those leaders go out and train our sub-formations and be able to apply those leadership lessons they’ve learned to complex problems on the battlefield or in garrison or wherever it may be,” James said. “Ultimately, what we provide our nation to fight in conflicts and to do whatever we are called to do is developed leaders — agile and adaptive leaders.”
Ierardi said he also tasked James with preparing the division’s headquarters to be ready and capable of deploying on short notice in an expeditionary manner.
“He made an extremely complex challenge with a lot of moving parts look exceedingly easy,” Ierardi said. “The success we are sure to have in these (future) missions has your fingerprints all over it and for that you have my gratitude, admiration and respect.”
As James leaves the division, he said what he will remember most vividly are the soldiers and the legend of the organization.
“It’s the camaraderie, the history and how it’s just a bit different than other organizations,” James said.
“It’s the most powerful organization in our Army, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s neat to be a part of that and the legacy and the history to make that happen.”