By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – The 4th Infantry Division bid farewell to a beloved leader Friday while soldiers celebrated their completion of a yearlong tour in Iraq and welcomed their new commanding general.
After the division's colors were uncased, signifying the 4th Infantry's return to duty at Fort Hood, command of the division passed to Maj. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond, former assistant division commander for support of the 1st Cavalry Division.
James D. Thurman, who led the division since June 2004, received his third star after relinquishing command of the 4th Infantry to Hammond.
After Thurman relinquished his post as commander, the Army's newest lieutenant general and his family shook hands, gave hugs and shared memories with dozens of well-wishers. It took 55 minutes for a winding line to snake through Abrams Field House, where the ceremony took place, and say good-bye to the Thurmans.
The line contained military and community leaders, friends and soldiers, including some of the division's most junior-ranked troops. Many of the soldiers posed for pictures with Thurman, and some asked him to autograph programs from the ceremony.
"I don't know when the bond between a leader and the led has been stronger," said Gen. Charles C. Campbell, who took command last week of the Army's Forces Command after being promoted to general, about Thurman's connection to his soldiers.
Thurman said commanding the 4th Infantry was "the best experience I've ever had." He led the division during a transformation that added a brigade combat team and changed the makeup of others. He led the eight months of intense combat training that built from individual training up to brigade-level exercises.
Thurman and the 4th Infantry deployed to Iraq in late 2005 and took over Multinational Division-Baghdad from the 3rd Infantry Division on Jan. 7, 2006. Most soldiers returned in October and November 2006, and the Baghdad mission was passed to the 1st Cavalry on Nov. 15.
"It is a great honor to bring these soldiers back," Thurman said.
He considers the last year in Baghdad the greatest accomplishment during his 2 years leading the 4th Infantry.
"Knowing we did what we were asked to do and knowing our soldiers stayed true to the American people," is the greatest accomplishment, Thurman said. "My only regret is we didn't get to bring back our fallen soldiers."
About 190 soldiers assigned to Multinational Division-Baghdad were killed during the deployment. Thurman keeps a list of their names in his pocket and vows to think of them daily.
Thurman is scheduled to take over V Corps in Germany in the coming days.
Taking Thurman's place in the 4th Infantry is a man well-known to Central Texans. Hammond, who deployed with the 1st Cavalry in 2004-05, has been the director of operations and readiness in the Army's Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff in Washington for the last year.
"Frankly, there is no greater sight than to have the Pentagon in the rear-view mirror and Central Texas in front in the headlights," Hammond said.
Hammond, recently promoted to major general, acknowledged he has big shoes to fill and promised he would not let anyone down. He promised he and his wife, Diane, will "lead by example and from the heart." He also promised to uphold strict training and moral standards. He also made a promise to Army families.
"I will protect your soldier," he vowed.
Campbell, Thurman and Hammond all thanked the 4th Infantry's soldiers for what they accomplished in Iraq, and each said he is proud of the soldiers for their dedication and professionalism.
"You are clearly the best this nation has to offer," Thurman said.
Also during the ceremony, Thurman received the Distinguished Service Medal. His wife, Dee, received the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, the Forces Command Commander's Award, Forces Command Well-Being Award and a proclamation commissioning her a Yellow Rose of Texas by Gov. Rick Perry.
Contact Emily Baker at email@example.com