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News | Aug. 11, 2020

Former SOCOM commander reflects on 40 years of service at DIA’s first virtual MasterMinds

By Kyle Permann, DIA Public Affairs

 In the first virtual installment of MasterMinds, the Defense Intelligence Agency and DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr. hosted retired Gen. Raymond Thomas, July 15.  

Thomas, the 11th commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and the former commander at Joint Special Operations Command, candidly shared his sentiments on leadership and perspective as he reflected on his time in the U.S. Army.

Thomas’ career began in 1980 when he commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant upon his graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York. It ended on March 29, 2019 – four decades and four stars later. 

“Retirement has provided me a completely different perspective on a lot of problems,” said Thomas. “In some cases, I haven’t changed my opinion necessarily, but I have certainly changed my perspective.”

And through the technology of Microsoft Teams, he got to share this perspective – as a career consumer of intelligence – with the DIA workforce.

Serving in places such as Colombia, Somalia, Bosnia and the Middle East, Thomas admitted that he “rode the wave of so-called ops-intel fusion.”

This frontline perspective on the relationship between operations and intelligence is why Thomas admonished his audience to allow operators and decision-makers to reflect on intelligence products.

“One of the basic conversations, which I don't think happens often enough between commanding officers, senior decision-makers and their intelligence professionals, is a shared appreciation for knowledge and understanding of the problems we're trying to solve and the decisions that we're trying to make,” opined Thomas.

These conversations are more necessary than ever with the current and enduring threats articulated in the National Defense Strategy. Thomas challenged his audience to view these issues with a global perspective, noting his own doubts about today’s intelligence construct and current strategy.

“For all the threats I described before – Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and violent extremism – I don’t think we have a sound national strategy on how we’re going to win for any of those. Let alone in combination,” warned Thomas.

However, despite the challenges facing the Intelligence Community, Thomas remained optimistic – both in looking back at his career and looking forward to the future.

“We are still getting the best America has to offer,” stressed Thomas. “And that’s our decisive advantage going forward.”

In addition to discussing current events and the relationship between intelligence and operations, Thomas spoke about leadership to his audience, sharing anecdotes from his time as a senior general officer.

He encouraged his audience to do two simple things: stay engaged and find a mentor. Thomas also emphasized that leaders should set the example for their teams with their actions – whether that means balancing personal relationships or delegating tasks.

After his remarks, Thomas fielded questions from the DIA workforce in a discussion moderated by Ashley, sharing his thoughts on the role of special operations forces in great power competition, diversity in special operations forces and balancing family and career.

Thomas concluded with a final reflection on his life-long service to the U.S.

“I was blessed to be part of the team.”