His military career began in 1957 and essentially continued through to 2005, when he retired for a second time with a total of 46 years military-related service. Then, in 2008, Jim Thomas began his political career as Hinesville’s first black mayor.
He told the Courier that when his second term of office ends in November 2015, his political career also will end. He added with a laugh that he’s “going to go to work for (his wife) Miss Claudia.”
Thomas’ military career began with the Marine Corps in 1957. He completed a three-year tour then left the service to go to school back home in Florida. He returned to the military in 1962, this time enlisting in the Army. In 1964, while stationed with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Okinawa, Thomas volunteered for special forces training. This was a year-long process that began with a qualification, or “Q,” course, then continued with specialized training in two fields.
He said he trained to become both a light- and heavy-weapons expert, then a demolition expert. The training was beneficial to Thomas while serving in Vietnam and later when he started a new civil-service career. He made another career decision in 1965 and went to officer-candidate school at Fort Benning.
After a long, successful career that concluded with his assignment to Fort Stewart, Thomas retired from the Army in 1980 as Maj. James Thomas.
A year later, he was working for the Army again, this time in a GS-11 position with Fort Stewart’s Directorate of Public Works. He later accepted a promotion that allowed him to work with the Army Corps of Engineers, first as a real-estate specialist, then as a project manager for construction projects. All his previous soldier and leadership training were put to use in this position.
“Some of the construction projects I completed include the (Sfc. Paul R. Smith) Education Center, the front gate, several ranges, the tunnel (training) complex, the (military operations in urban terrain) facility at Metz Pond, two shootout facilities, the gymnasium at Hunter (Army Airfield) and the Marine complex there,” he said.
Thomas grinned as he talked about the “fun parts” of some of these projects — one of the Red Cloud ranges in particular. He said they gave him two truckloads of old explosives to use to construct the range. His special-ops training in demolition came in handy for this and other projects.
While talking about his previous careers, the mayor was interrupted by a phone call. He and City Manager Billy Edwards were heading to San Antonio, Texas, next week, he said. They had plans to attend a conference with 30 other “defense” communities to talk about military budget cuts and troop reductions.
That subject matter ties in well with the questions Thomas answered about his service and career achievements, which prepared him to be the mayor of a military community. He said budget cuts and threats of even more cuts to military spending hurt the relationship between those who serve in the military and their military leadership as well as the nation’s civilian leaders.
“Military leaders — the country — need to keep the promises they made to those who serve now and those who have served,” Thomas said.
He admitted that he really doesn’t plan to just retire when he leaves office, saying that he “needs” to work because he “can’t just sit there.” He was emphatic, though, that his future does not include more politics and only laughed when asked if he’d consider a run for a state office. He said he’d like to go back to school through Georgia Southern for its Master in Business Administration. He said he has enjoyed serving as Hinesville’s mayor and looks back on his accomplishments with a great deal of pride.
“I’ve enjoyed working with a diverse group of people and getting things done,” he said. “I’d like to see the Armstrong (Atlantic State University) Liberty campus completed as well as the Veterans Memorial Walk at Bryant Commons and the new VA clinic. But there are some things you have to leave for the next generation. I tell young people to look at history, learn from history, but focus on today.”