FORT BENNING, Ga. — A new star has emerged inside the U.S. Army Armor School.
Col. Thomas S. James, the organization’s commandant, was promoted to brigadier general Friday in a ceremony outside McGinnis-Wickam Hall, the Maneuver Center of Excellence headquarters. The event took place between the “Follow Me” and “Trooper of the Plains” statues.
“Wow this truly represents hallowed ground,” he told the audience. “The team here is really making history as we form the Maneuver Center. I stand before you honored, humbled and blessed to be selected. There’s so many who are deserving of this that don’t get this opportunity.”
The ceremony was certainly a family affair for James, who became the 46th chief of Armor in June. Wife Chelle joined his parents, Tom and Hessie James, in pinning the star on his uniform. His three children — Trey, 21, Zach, 17, and 12-year-old Maddie — also took part in presenting him with the general officer belt and buckle, flag and .380 Colt automatic, the standard general officer pistol.
Another two dozen relatives traveled from South Carolina, North Carolina and Chicago to attend the ceremony.
“How can you fail with a support group like that?” asked Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commanding general, who served as reviewing officer. “We have the newest general in the Army right here. For the rest of your life, you’ll be known as General James. That’s pretty cool.”
A detail from A Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, gave him a cannon salute on York Field.
James was commissioned as an Armor second lieutenant after graduating from The Citadel in May 1985. Back then, he figured he’d do one tour, serve his country, pick up some leadership experience and become a businessman back home in South Carolina.
“But in the first three months of serving, I fell in love with it,” he said. “Just like that, 27 years have gone by. And I will stay as long as the Army will keep me.”
James has commanded Armor units at the company, battalion and brigade levels. He’s made several deployments to Iraq and is also a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Gulf War.
Brown said he first met James on an Iraq deployment when the new brigadier general was the 3rd Infantry Division’s chief of staff.
“He was so squared away,” Brown said. “With Tom, he never loses that enthusiasm. He’s an absolutely incredible Soldier. He calls Soldiering and leadership an ‘affair of the heart.’”
James arrived at Fort Benning this past summer after serving as the 3rd Infantry Division’s deputy commanding general for maneuver at Fort Stewart, Ga.
“He led the Armor School during the most difficult part of this transition and completed the move from Fort Knox without a hitch,” Brown said. “He was the perfect guy to move Armor down here. He absolutely loves what he does, and he’s brought some great ideas to Fort Benning.”
The Armor School commandant is leading the Maneuver Center’s effort to shape the future force through Training and Doctrine Command’s Army of 2020 initiative.
“We’ve pulled together Armor and Infantry, and we’re looking to the future as a maneuver force,” James said. “It was inevitable this would happen. It’s great that it has, and we’re starting to reap the benefits and the synergy created by being here.
“I’m excited about defining the role for Armor in the future. We’ll continue to figure out how Armor supports Infantry and how Infantry supports Armor in that close fight — that last 5,000 meters and the last 100 yards.”
James called his family “troopers” for enduring 12 moves and four deployments.
At the ceremony, he also thanked the Army, local community, and Soldiers and leaders he served with throughout his career. He gave a special nod to the Soldiers he accompanied in battle who were either killed or severely wounded.
“All of that comes back to me on this day. I serve in their honor,” he said. “God bless those Soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, those who suffered life-changing wounds and those who remain in harm’s way today defending our freedom.”