Thurman takes reins of V Corps at ceremony in Heidelberg
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Lt. Gen. James Thurman was welcomed Tuesday as V Corps’ 52nd commander — and possibly its last — in a damp, drizzly ceremony at Campbell Barracks.
Just back in November from a year commanding the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq, Thurman told the audience and the approximately 230 soldiers on the parade ground that he was glad to be serving his third Germany tour in a 31-year career that has been spent mostly in units — with just one stint at the Pentagon. “I promise to give you 200 percent every day,” he said.
Gen. David McKiernan, U.S. Army Europe commander, Thurman’s former and current boss, and who had a hand in his appointment to V Corps, described Thurman as a “proven warrior, trainer and leader” he’d follow “anywhere, anytime.”
Thurman, McKiernan said, would help him in the next couple of years to merge USAREUR and V Corps into one entity, 7th Army. “Buckle up, it’s going to be a great ride,” McKiernan said.
The event also served as the official welcome home ceremony for V Corps’ troops, who recently returned from Iraq.
The two generals, who were apparently comfortable with each other at the ceremony, slapping backs and hugging several times, go back a ways.
Thurman was McKiernan’s right-hand man in 2003 as chief of operations of the Coalition Land Forces Component Command, the ground force that invaded Iraq.
According to “Fiasco,” a book about the Iraq war by Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks, neither general was happy with original war plans calling for fewer than 10,000 combat troops and “disliked the idea of being Rumsfeld’s guinea pigs.”
The two succeeded in getting more troops, but not as many as they wanted, according to Ricks. “It’s turning out right now we need those forces,” Thurman said in mid 2003, according to Ricks.
That lack of troops, whether coalition or Iraqi, would continue to be an issue in Thurman’s subsequent Iraq command.
In his second tour in Iraq, Thurman oversaw more than one campaign to try to contain daily carnage in Baghdad. Following each operation, he spoke of a failing insurgency, an increased feeling of security and a building confidence in the Iraqi military and police forces.
Asked about his previous statements Tuesday, Thurman said: “Sectarian violence is not going to be solved by the American soldier. There’s a political piece needed that I never saw come together over there.
“I never felt like I got the Iraqi forces I needed in Baghdad, and I made that known.”
Despite the military being unable to contain the violence, Thurman said his troops “never lost a battle.” Asked if, in the end, that was meaningful, he said it was. “They respect force over there,” he said.
When he left Iraq in November, he said, he felt he and his troops had worked to give Iraq a chance. “I think we’ve given Iraqis a tremendous opportunity to succeed, if they take advantage of it,” he said.
At V Corps, Thurman succeeds Maj. Gen. Fred Robinson, who’s filled the position as acting commander for four months, following the relinquishment of command of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who spent more than three years in the post before retiring. Thurman officially became commander Jan. 19.
Thurman, from a small town in Oklahoma, speaks softly with a southern twang — “I talk slow but don’t let that fool you,” he said.
During his speech, he spoke German to the assembled guests in what seemed to be a heartfelt and difficult effort. Then he scored with his punchline: “Ich bin ein Heidelberger,” he said, to appreciative laughter.
When last year he commanded the 4th Infantry Division and was responsible for four provinces — with some 5,000 fewer troops than his predecessor — his command was reputed to be strict and by-the-book. Some soldiers complained about rules they thought irrelevant in a war zone, such as not smoking in government vehicles and a prohibition against opposite sex guests in tents and trailers.
Before Tuesday’s hour-long ceremony at a brief press conference, Thurman described himself first as a “soldier.”
“I’m all about discipline, standards, and I’m about caring for people,” he said. “I’m into tough, disciplined training.”