By Debbie Stevenson

Killeen Daily Herald

ORLANDO, Fla. Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, was presented the prestigious Robert M. Leich award Monday for his work last year on changing the face of Army aviation.

The award is given to a unit or individual for sustained contribution to Army aviation or for a unique one-time outstanding performance, Maj. Gen. Ronald K. Anderson, the Army Aviation Associations president, told attendees at the groups annual convention in Orlando, Fla.

Picking Thurman for this years award was a no brainer, said retired Chief Warrant Officer-4 Joe Pisano, a selection board panel member for the association.

J.D. Thurman came out to the front because of the significance and long-term significance of the impact of what he did on where aviation will be as well as (where) it is now, Pisano said. His work caused a fundamental shift in the structure of Army aviation of the future.

Packed and ready to leave the Pentagon and assume the helm of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Thurman was handpicked by Army chief of staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker in late 2003 to head up a special 60-day task force to come up with a plan to reinvent Army aviation. Faced with leading his own division into combat, the straight-talking former aviator from Oklahoma seized the opportunity. The result was a radical change that canned a pet congressional project the overbudget Comanche stealth helicopter program to free up $13 billion in funds to come up with more aircraft and improve the existing Army fleet and its logistical support. The 28-member team also recommended sweeping changes in the aviation unit structure to help it combine forces with the Armys ground troops.

The result was the purchase of more than 900 aircraft for the Army and state-of-the art computer programs to give soldiers instant information from the battlefield and a digitized logistical support network.

Canning the Comanche brought a lot of heat, but Thurman said the Armys top generals stood by the task forces recommendations.

It was the right thing to do, Thurman said.

Thurmans wife, Dee, said Mondays award came a day ahead of her husbands 30th anniversary of his commission in the Army as an armor officer.

I am very proud of him, she said. He wanted to fix aviation because our kids are coming up in the Army.

More importantly, she said he wanted to do it for the soldiers.

He cares about the soldiers. He never stops caring, she said.

Thurman accepted the award on behalf of the task force members.

I know we made the right call, he said. Theres no doubt in my mind.

The transformation of Army aviation is the theme of the associations 49th convention at Disneys Coronado Resort, which ends Wednesday.

Were changing the way we train; weve had to, said Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala. Bottom line, were doing everything we can to improve the training of our soldiers. Were doing everything we can to improve the training of our aviation units.

Contact Debbie Stevenson at

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