Six months after starting the job, V corps commander heads out
European edition, Thursday, August 9, 2007
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Just six months after taking command of V Corps, Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman bade a reluctant farewell Wednesday before heading to the Pentagon to head up Army operations, where he said one of his primary tasks would be to help “grow the Army.”
On the same soggy parade field at Campbell Barracks where he stood in February as the new V Corps commander, Thurman told the crowd that he’d received the news of his newest assignment — officially, deputy chief of staff for Army operations and training — from Gen. David McKiernan, U.S. Army Europe commander.
“He broke the news to me all right,” Thurman said. “But it wasn’t the news I wanted to hear.”
Thurman’s V Corps successor is Lt. Gen. Kenneth Hunzeker, former commander of the 1st Infantry Division, who was in Iraq until 96 hours before Tuesday’s change of command. He had been overseeing Iraqi police training.
“This was unexpected,” said Hunzeker, who left Germany just 13 months before and will be the 53rd — and possibly last — V Corps commander in its 89 years.
Within the next couple of years, V Corps is to merge with U.S. Army Europe to become Seventh Army. Of 10 units standing on the parade field, four had their colors cased, representing units either inactivated or deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan — underscoring the turbulence V Corps and the Army are now undergoing.
At a news conference after the ceremony, Thurman said he sighed when told of his Pentagon assignment because he wanted to see the transformation through and ensure the best possible command-and-control structure for Seventh Army.
“And the other piece is just leaving the people,” Thurman said. “I said, ‘What am I going to tell my people?’ It’s kind of an emptiness.”
Yet Thurman, 55, is also known for being a tough taskmaster.
“‘Make it hard on them. Throw them a curveball,’” were sentiments Thurman often expressed, McKiernan noted in his speech. But that was all to “‘Get them ready,’” McKiernan said.
Thurman said after the ceremony that Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, had asked him in his new job to help “grow the Army” and transform the reserve into a more capable force to deal with what Thurman called “an era of persistent conflict.”
But that will be a challenge, Thurman said, noting that the Army had missed recruiting goals recently. “This isn’t just an Army problem,” Thurman said. “This is a nation’s problem. It’s going to take a lot of work to talk to the American people. Folks have got to want to serve.”
Just before the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment left Germany for Iraq this month, Thurman said he spoke to the cavalry leadership, not as a general, but just to give “some tips on the battlefield from another soldier.”
His top tip, he said, was “Always know your vulnerabilities … and don’t get complacent.”
When he spoke to the entire unit, he told them he expected they would face a fight as soon as they hit the ground.
“We’re in a tough period down there,” he said Wednesday. “You put combat formations in tough areas. I have no doubt (Lt.) General (Raymond) Odierno will put them in a tough area. And you’ve got to be ready. I want them ready.”