By Donovan Jackson, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published September 20, 2013
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al -- There comes a time in everyone's life when they must choose a route that will prove most beneficial to their pursuit of happiness. Trade school, four-year college or immediate entry into the work force are common avenues.
However, others sometimes look toward the sky for inspiration, outlining their routes underneath the clouds.
Brigadier Gen. Robert Thomas, commander of the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development, was one of those who looked to the blue for inspiration.
Born into a family with military ties, Thomas spent most of his childhood moving from base to base. "My father was an Air Force pilot, so, like most military kids, I moved around a lot," he said.
Although he moved from base to base growing up, Thomas calls Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where he graduated high school, his home.
While in high school, Thomas aspired to one day enter the U.S. Air Force Academy, so to help him better attain this goal, he became an Air Force Junior ROTC cadet in 1977 and a Civil Air Patrol cadet in 1978.
The CAP cadet program focuses on youth development, character development, leadership, aerospace education and emergency services training. Cadets participate in actual Air Force missions as communicators, aircraft marshalers, administrative assistants and ground team leaders and members. Cadets also perform emergency locator transmitter searches and disaster relief house-to-house surveys.
Thomas credits the CAP and JROTC cadet programs as being important factors in his preparation for a rewarding Air Force career.
"As a cadet you get to wear an Air Force uniform with cadet insignia. That was the first time I got to see myself in a blue uniform - words cannot describe what it meant to me," he said.
The cadet program prepared Thomas for a life that would be spent flying all over the globe.
"As a cadet, I went on numerous airplane flights," said the general. "The rides got me used to flying while also providing me with a level of excitement and enthusiasm that never diminished - even to this day!"
Thomas graduated from Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach in 1980; he entered the Air Force Academy three weeks later.
"It was a tough six weeks of basic training in Colorado," he said. "I was from Florida and had trouble adjusting to the altitude. Basic training was made even tougher as we were required to run everywhere we went - and the 7,200-foot altitude of the Academy didn't make that any easier."
Thomas also remembers serving with Lt. Gen. David Fadok, commander and president of Air University, multiple times throughout his career, including the very beginning at basic training.
"General Fadok was one of my upper-class cadet trainers at basic training - my cadet first sergeant. We were required to memorize the names of our chain of command, so it stuck with me all these years," he said.
He served with Fadok at Headquarters Air Mobility Command in the 1990s, along with the former commander of the Carl A. Spaatz Center for Officer Education, Maj. Gen. Scott Hanson, and Col. John McCain, former commander of the Ira C. Eaker Center for Professional Development.
"I'm fairly certain that none of us would have guessed at that time we would be serving together again 18-plus years later as the AU commander and president and three center commanders," Thomas said.
Within Thomas' Air Force career, he has had more than 14 assignments worldwide. One of his favorite assignments, he said, was working at the United Nations, assigned to the secretariat's field operations division, providing air logistics support for worldwide peacekeeping operations.
"I lived in the heart of Manhattan, and not only was my job fun and exciting, but so was living in the Big Apple," he said. "I was the only American in my office; my boss was in the Royal Navy, and my next-level boss was Canadian Army. I can't thank the Air Force enough for providing me with that wonderful opportunity and great assignment."
Another favorite assignment was working at Headquarters Joint Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C "It was a very specialized joint unit consisting of members from every service. We were very much operationally focused. The quality, character and dedication of the men and women assigned to JSOC is simply unmatched," he said.
The general said that his toughest and most rigorous assignment was while at the Pentagon from 1996-98.
"My Pentagon assignment came with hardcore staff work and very long days - every day. It was a very tough two years," said Thomas, who arrived at Maxwell in May 2012. "My hat off to all the people who work at the Pentagon. Working there was tougher than any of my deployments."
As commander of the Holm Center, Thomas oversees approximately 14,000 cadets in Air Force ROTC at 145 detachments and 1,100 cross-town universities in 47 states and Puerto Rico, commissioning about 1,850 officers a year. He oversees the operations of 121,000 cadet members of Air Force JROTC at 864 high schools in the U.S. and overseas.
Thomas also has Air Force oversight of CAP and its 63,000 members and 550-plus aircraft. The Air Force Officer Training School also falls under Thomas' command, and the school commissions about 2,500 officers annually. In all, the Holm Center produces 100 percent of non-line Air Force officers and a little over 80 percent of all the Air Force line officers.
"I'm honored to serve with 3,255 superstar Holm Center Airmen, accomplishing a critically important Air Force mission," he said.
Thomas said that he is "very proud" of his Air Force career and credits the CAP and JROTC cadet programs for setting him up for success, instilling in him the Air Force core values at an early age, and cementing his decision to enter the Air Force Academy and serve his country as an American Airman.