Col. Thomas James sat at a table in Club Stewart’s rocket room Wednesday morning after attending another battalion change-of-command reception, signifying more of the formal modifications taking place as the 4th Brigade Combat Team transitions from a heavy to a light brigade.
Already, more than 31 of the brigade’s company and battery commanders have moved on to new assignments and nearly six battalion and squadron leaders have changed command.
Only one day away from his own change-of-command ceremony, James reflected on the nearly three years that he has served as the 4th BCT commander, responsible for more than 3,800 soldiers.
First on his mind were the soldiers he will be leaving behind — figuratively and literally.
“Soldiering is an affair of the heart,” he said. “Our business is not a job or a profession; it is a way of life. When we build an organization, go deploying, execute our mission and come home, you build this bond with the soldiers that will last a life-time.”
As he reminisced, he lifted the left sleeve of his uniform.
Underneath it was a black and silver bracelet that James said serves as a constant reminder of the history he will always share with the soldiers of the vanguard brigade.
It reads: “Never Forgotten,” John 15:13”
“The scripture says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,’ ” he said.
“In Operation Iraqi Freedom 2007-09, the vanguard brigade lost 20 soldiers,” James said. “As a brigade commander, it rips at your heart … you want to do everything you can to bring them home, but you can’t guarantee that. Some circumstances you can’t control.”
The unit was re-established in 2004.
All together, the 4th BCT lost 65 troops in the war in Iraq.
For the out-going commander, the hard work and sacrifice of the soldiers he led and lost has reinforced his dedication and commitment as an officer in the U.S. Army.
During the next two months, James will transition into his new assignment as the 3rd Infantry Division’s chief of staff, replacing the current C.O.S., Col. Terry Ferrell, where he will work alongside Marne 6, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo.
It will be James’ third time serving the division.
“I am excited,” he said. “[Cucolo] has given me the opportunity to continue to serve soldiers in the Marne Division. I love Fort Stewart and I love the Marne Division.”
On Thursday, after the trumpets of the 3rd Infantry Division signaled every change in ranks, James formally stepped down from his post, receiving encouraging words from his chief and passing on the Vanguard 6 torch to the incoming 4th BCT commander, Col. Lou Lartigue.
“We are leaving the vanguard brigade in very capable hands,” James said, looking at Lartigue. “I know you’re the exact person this brigade needs as it transitions and prepares for the next deployment.”
Lartigue graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1989. He was a distinguished graduate at the Infantry Officers Advanced Course at Fort Benning, and has two master’s degrees of science in simulation systems and in engineering.
This is his second time serving at Fort Stewart.
After graduating from the Armor Officer Basic Course and U.S. Army Ranger School, he was a platoon leader in the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor, 24th Infantry Division.
He and his wife Michelle have two children, Jake and Nicole.