Lt. Gen. Thomas James Jr. is retiring from the Army after 36 years of service. His last assignment was as First Army commanding general.
Lt. Gen. Thomas James Jr. is retiring from the Army after 36 years of service. His last assignment was as First Army commanding general. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Lt. Gen. Thomas S. James Jr. retired this summer after 36 years in the military, the last three serving as First Army commanding general. The following are excerpts from an interview reflecting on his time in service.

On why he joined: “I was most inspired by my father. My father was a combat engineer and a graduate of The Citadel. I really wanted to serve like he did.”

On his decision to be an armor officer: “I really wanted to go infantry but then seeing the tank demonstrations, and seeing what they could do and how complex a weapon system it is, and what kind of combat power it brings to the battlefield, I fell in love with it.”

On his development: “How could any organization take Tom James, a 2.05 GPA business major that wasn’t a distinguished military graduate, that wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and over 36 years of intense leadership development, allow me to stay and serve in the Army for 36 years and be a lieutenant general? If you told that to my cadet buddies at The Citadel in 1984, they would probably have laughed.”

On how Army values shaped him: “What I love about the Army is that we are tied together as a team and that in order to build that cohesive team, everyone is important and everyone has a mission. That means you’ve got to respect each other, you’ve got to be selfless in your actions, and we swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That’s loyalty, that’s duty, that’s selfless service.”

On his time with First Army: “It has been the highlight of my career because of the uniqueness of the mission. You’ve got the steady-state requirements in pre-mob and post-mob and then you’ve got the large-scale where, on order, you’ve got to be prepared to launch.”

On what it was like to hold the same position as Gen. Pershing and other First Army commanding generals: “It’s incredibly humbling to be on the same wall as those giants. If you think about what they have done, their legacy, and what they’ve etched into our nation’s history and what they’ve accomplished, it’s just absolutely incredible. I want to make sure we keep that alive. First Army was the first field army in the United States, formed in 1918, and being able to build over time and fight in World War I and World War II, and then changing missions but still serving in a unique way to build combat power and combat readiness. It’s hugely important to be able to understand the conditions that existed and what they did and learn from it.”

On the contributions of the Reserve Component: “We cannot win a large-scale war against a near-peer competitor without the Guard and Reserve. We’ve got to manage resources in pre-mobilization and post-mobilization to be able to get them to the best readiness that we can. Gen. John J. Pershing went from 85,000 active to 2 million in a year. If you’ve got the nation behind you, you can do something like that.”

On the advice he gives to second lieutenants: “First, inspire and build trust. One of the key components of that is to listen. When you take over a small unit organization, you’ve got noncommissioned officers that have been there more than a day or two and they’ve had experience. You have to be in charge but be humble about it and be eager to learn. The second one is, you’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to be out there with them. If they’re in the motor pool and they’ve got grease on them, you’re in the motor pool with grease on. Or at PT [physical training], you’re maxing your PT test or doing the best that you can. The last one is to lead by example 24-7-365. You’ve got to do what’s right because they’re watching all the time. If you can build that trust in subordinates, they’ll move mountains for you.”

On connected leadership: “It fits very nicely with the People First strategy and building cohesive teams that are fit and can fight and can take care of each other. That’s critical to stabilize the Army and allow us to defeat the threats that tear at the fabric of our organizations, like suicide, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and racism. We want to connect with Soldiers and civilians as they come into our organization. Connect, build trust over time, and then constantly adapt to an operational environment that’s constantly changing.”