Faces From the Front for February 15, 2010 - Lt. Col. Otha Thornton
Current Unit: United States Forces - Iraq
Current Position: Human Resources Chief of Plans and Operations
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Elberton, Ga.
Years of Service: 20
During his tenure with the White House Communications Agency, Lt. Col. Otha Thornton observed news coverage as the new Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama committed to a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq. Since then, Thornton has deployed to Iraq where he is playing a critical role in the execution President Obama's plan.
"The opportunity to observe the commander in chief announce the drawdown of forces in Iraq and getting the opportunity to deploy with my unit and execute the plan at the operational and tactical levels has been very educational and rewarding," Thornton explained.
Currently serving in Baghdad as the Human Resources Chief of Plans and Operations for Unites States Forces - Iraq (USF-I), Thornton is responsible for fulfilling a variety of different roles and executing many tasks. One of his major roles is serving as the Security Assistance Lead for the U.S. and Iraq's security agreement, a position in which he is responsible for ensuring that the U.S. forces are complying with the standards set forth in the agreement when moving in and out of Iraq's borders.
In this role he has worked with U.S. and Iraqi government officials to ensure that United States forces are working in compliance with the Security Agreement that went into effect in January 2009. "My major responsibility now is working with Immigration Officials from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior to meet necessary requirements to conduct operations in our ports of embarkation and departure," Thornton said.
In addition, Thornton is responsible for ensuring that essential personnel services are provided to Soldiers in Iraq. Thornton is also charged with supervising all casualty operations in the country and overseeing the USF-I's responses to congressional inquiries.
"As the USF-I, Chief of Plans and Operations, the Casualty Operations Branch for the Iraqi Theater falls under my direct supervision," Thornton explained. "This is the most challenging area amongst my responsibilities. Casualty Operations is a zero defect business."
In this role, Thornton is responsible for the reporting all U.S, persons wounded or killed in action.
"First and foremost, we ensure that at every step of the way we are properly honoring our fallen comrades and providing precise reporting on our Service Members and Civilians wounded and/or killed in action," Thornton said.
Congressional inquiries is another area that falls under Thornton's purview -- he and his team are charged with responding to all congressional inquiries regarding the USF-I command.
"For specific inquires that pertain to the USF-I command and programs, we conduct research, and my team and I draft and review responses for USF-I to send back to the U.S. Congress," Thornton stated. "Over the last year we have processed over 1,000 congressional inquiries." In performing each of his responsibilities, Thornton helps the USF-I accomplish its missions, which moves the U.S. closer to bringing troops home from Iraq.
"Reducing military forces from over 130,000 to 50,000 in 18 months is a monumental task, but we have been on task and on track to make it happen. At this point, we are down to around 100,000," Thornton explained. "The complexity and magnitude of the mission of executing a responsible drawdown of forces has proved to be very professionally challenging and rewarding."
While Thornton is proud of the work he and his comrades have accomplished throughout their time in Iraq, the Soldier counts his volunteer work with the youth scouting program as one of his most rewarding deployment experiences thus far.
In 1921 Iraq began participating with the Boy Scout and Girl Guide programs and became a member of the World Organization Scouting Movement. However, due to instability, Iraq has been decertified twice by the organization. Since April 2008, Thornton and other service members at Camp Victory have volunteered to assist in resurrecting the scouting programs, moving the country toward recertification with the organization.
"This is just another opportunity for our United States Service Members to make contributions to the children and country of Iraq," Thornton said. "They are the future of this country and hopefully, our interactions, leadership training, and good will, will make a positive difference as the country develops as a model democracy in the Middle East."
Thornton, who comes from a long line of military service, is slated to return home in May 2010. "I have had family members that have served in the military throughout the history of the United States as a country," Thornton explained. "Over the last two decades, four of five of my brothers have served and traveled in the military all over the world."
Thornton looks forward to spending time with his mother in Elberton, Ga., and swapping deployment stories with his brothers when he returns home.