USMA welcomes 75th commandant of cadets
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 14, 2014) — The assumption ceremony welcoming Brig. Gen. John Thomson as the 75th commandant of cadets was something of a reunion between himself and Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.
As a cadet in the Class of 1986, Thomson’s tactical officer was someone they nicknamed “Captain America,” a term of affection bestowed on the officer with an unrivaled passion for physical training. Everyone else knew him as Capt. Caslen.
“I’m glad to have you back home ... but probably the most noteworthy event in your background was that you survived your Cadet Company A-1 TAC’s efforts to train and develop you,” Caslen said.
Caslen spoke of Thomson as a true warrior-scholar with a reputation for being one of the smartest, most insightful combat leaders in the Army.
“I’m convinced that we are producing the most qualified and best-trained officers in the history of the academy, and Gen. Thomson will continue to instill our graduates with the virtues necessary to fight and win our nation’s wars,” Caslen said.
In turn, Thomson, who has led Soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, 4th Field Artillery Regiment and 1st Armored Division, spoke of the numerous USMA graduates he’s served with while deployed. In fact, he just returned a few weeks ago from Afghanistan.
“I report back to you that they are performing exceptionally well—in combat, in tough conditions and in ambiguous situations,” Thomson said. “In fact, so much is being asked of lieutenants today I would be scared to have to go out today and take over a platoon facing the operational environments they are. Importantly, these observations will reinforce the significance of our mission at the U.S. Military Academy.”
Thomson described it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an honor to serve on the USMA team, and promised his commitment to fulfilling the mission of developing leaders of character.
“I’m incredibly humbled for this awesome privilege and tremendous responsibility as the 75th commandant of cadets,” Thomson said.
Class of 2015 Cadet Aaron Pell, the commander of 2nd Regiment, talks with Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. John Thomson Saturday during the Key Leader Development Training.
Brig. Gen. John Thomson assumed command as the 75th commandant of cadets during a ceremony Monday at Crest Hall, with U.S. Military Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen and USMA Command Sgt. Maj. Robin Duane presiding over the passing of the colors.
Four from the Corps’ commandant: Q&A with Brig. Gen. Thomson
Immediately after the assumption ceremony, Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. John Thomson stepped outside Eisenhower Hall for his first interview with the media.
The Pointer View asked him the following four questions.
Pointer View: In the coming weeks and months ahead, what are you looking forward to the most?
Thomson: There’s a lot of things. I mean, West Point provides so many great opportunities but I think the thing I will cherish the most is spending individual time with cadets in a variety of venues, whether its on athletic fields, in professional military education settings, at formations, military training ... just spending that quality time with these leaders—our nation’s sons and daughters.
Pointer View: Are there any leadership challenges these future officers will face that didn’t exist when you commissioned?
Thomson: Absolutely. I tell folks that if I had to go through West Point right now, I’d question my ability to go out and lead Soldiers. The world is so much more uncertain today; the complexity and ambiguity that these cadets face upon graduation in leading their platoons—the conditions are so much tougher and they have to deal in a strategic realm. I was getting ready for World War III, the Cold War, and so I had a very focused and narrow mission set. So, yes, it’s much tougher today.
Pointer View: A couple days ago you met with a few dozen cadets who will be in charge of leading the Corps as brigade and regimental teams. Can you give me your initial impression of those cadets?
Thomson: That’s an impressive group of men and women ... very mature, very focused. As a cadet, I never made it out of company level and these are brigade level and regimental level cadets. Their maturity and understanding just befuddles me. The discussions I was having with them is nothing I would see myself as a cadet having with the commandant of cadets.
Pointer View: In your discussion with the cadets, one of the things you mentioned was having spoken with five former commandants in preparation for your own assumption of command. Why did you feel this was necessary and what was the greatest takeaway from those conversations?
Thomson: I spoke with the last five, and the easiest one to reach was Gen. Caslen, because he’s my boss now, so I started with him and had the opportunity to talk with him quite a bit. Then I talked to Gen. Linnington, who is with the Department of Defense at the Pentagon now; I talked to Gen. Ted Martin who is at the National Training Center now; Maj. Gen. Bill Rapp, who is the commandant at the U.S. Army War College; and then obviously Brig. Gen. Rich Clarke, my predecessor who just left here. A lot of great takeaways, I just wanted to understand what they did. Commandants change (command) a little bit more than superintendents and deans, and some of the things you put in place with programs take time and so we have to have that handoff ... it’s a necessity. It’s almost intimidating when they tell you the scope of your responsibilities. You hear about the fun stuff but there’s a lot of tough work to do. But the one common theme, and this is great because every one of them told me this, is have fun. They tell me it’s going to be a fun job, and if you’re not having fun, those 4,400 cadets aren’t going to be having fun. So I’m going to remember that one.