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JBLM’s 7th Infantry Division welcomes new commander

New 7th ID commander Maj. Gen. Thomas James, middle left, observes the troops as they pass the reviewing stand Tuesday during the 7th Infantry Division Change of Command ceremony on Watkins Field on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
New 7th ID commander Maj. Gen. Thomas James, middle left, observes the troops as they pass the reviewing stand Tuesday during the 7th Infantry Division Change of Command ceremony on Watkins Field on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Northwest Guardian

An Iraq veteran who spent most of his career leading tank formations from Texas to Germany has taken command of the 7th Infantry Division, one of the largest Army units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Maj. Gen. Thomas S. James Jr., who was installed in a ceremony Tuesday, is the third commander of the 7th Infantry the headquarters launched at JBLM in October 2012. The headquarters oversees about 14,000 soldiers in JBLM’s infantry, artillery, aviation, engineer and intelligence brigades.

James follows Maj. Gen. Terry Ferrell, who moves to an assignment as chief of staff at U.S. Central Command, the Florida headquarters that oversees all military operations in the Middle East.

“Today’s a big day,” Ferrell said ahead of Tuesday’s ceremony. “Any time you have a change of command it’s bittersweet.”

Ferrell arrived at JBLM in February 2014, when he succeeded now Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza as division commander.

Lanza, who has stayed on at JBLM as I Corps commander, spoke about Ferrell’s “superb” leadership to scores of family members and dignitaries, as well as hundreds of soldiers in formation at Watkins Field.

Ferrell’s tenure included a small expansion of the headquarters staff that enabled about 70 local soldiers to deploy to Afghanistan for a yearlong assignment supporting Afghan forces. Those soldiers left for Kandahar province in late May.

Ferrell said he was humbled by the praise, but kept the focus on the soldiers he led during his tenure.

In coming months, James will supervise JBLM units that are preparing for exercises with U.S. allies in East Asia. Some of those events are expected to pair local troops with soldiers from Japan and India for stateside training.

As James takes command, the Army is trying to sort out how the division should make the best use of training opportunities in the Northwest.

The Army is studying whether helicopter units — including ones in the 7th Infantry — should be able to train in remote areas of the North Cascades and in Southwest Washington.

The Army also wants to test whether units in the division’s 17th Field Artillery brigade should be able to fire rockets at training areas in the South Sound.

James, 51, has served in the Army since 1985. He deployed to Iraq during the Gulf War and deployed to the Iraq War multiple times as a battalion commander, brigade commander and division staff officer.

Ferrell said he’s close friends with the new 7th Infantry commander, noting in his remarks Tuesday that he calls him “Tommy.”

James said he’s looking forward to taking charge.

“We could not be more honored to follow such an amazing command team and longtime friends,” he said of Ferrell and his family. “I have huge boots to fill.”

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