Thompson takes command of SMC

  • Published
  • By James Spellman, Jr.

It was a day where overcast skies parted on cue as if in a major Hollywood production – complete with special effects in the resounding form of cannon fire. Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson accepted the flag of command from Gen. John Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, during a change of command ceremony May 22 on the parade grounds of historic Fort MacArthur in San Pedro.

The former commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, under the Air Force Materiel Command, takes over the dual role as commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space.

Thompson succeeds Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, who will lead the Missile Defense Agency, replacing U.S. Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, the agency’s current director.

“This is a special day, not only for the Greaves and Thompson families, but for our Air Force, Air Force Space Command and for SMC, as we transfer command from one great leader to another,” proclaimed Raymond, as he stood before a formation of Airmen and more than 1,000 invited guests, aerospace partners, and local civic leaders from the surrounding communities of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area.

“We find ourselves once again at the uncomfortable intersection of high reliance and high vulnerability,” stated Raymond. “We must transform the way we do business to ensure our space capabilities are defendable in an increasingly contested and congested domain. Our national security demands nothing less.”

Raymond lauded the many accomplishments of Greaves, thanking him for “maintaining his laser focus” for mission success, and partnering with industry that resulted in the award of the first competitively selected Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle contract in 15 years. For his role as SMC commander and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, Greaves received the Distinguished Service Medal from Raymond.

“Sam is moving to another critical posting as the director of the Missile Defense Agency, where he will be charged with developing, testing, and fielding an integrated and layered ballistic missile defense system at a time in which the success of this system has never been more crucial to our national defense,” Raymond pointed out. “The Department of Defense could not have chosen a more capable officer.”

 After reviewing the formation and receiving a last salute from SMC Airmen, Greaves addressed the crowd a final time, thanking Team SMC for its accomplishments over the past three years.

“As I assess it, we are successfully continuing the important work of those early space pioneers – General Bernard Schriever and the “Schoolhouse Gang” – and the work they started in 1954 in that little schoolhouse up in Inglewood, California,” stated Greaves.

“Since June 2014, together with industry, we have completed over 117 of our SMC commitments, providing amazing capabilities for our warfighters and did so in synchronization with the scope of our assigned responsibilities, levels of authority and degrees of accountability, which included successfully planning and executing 22 National Security Space launch campaigns,” said Greaves, who then ticked off a virtual laundry list of achievements from the national to local level.

“Our team at SMC has been incredibly busy over the past three years. All of these successes and celebrations are a true testament to the team here at SMC,” said Greaves. “However, space – the next frontier – is now becoming a more contested and operationally challenging environment. Our adversaries understand the enormous competitive advantage our armed forces derive from our space-based capabilities – and they may indeed aim to disrupt our abilities to utilize space assets while operating in the joint environment around the globe.”

Greaves made special note of the unwavering support received from the honorary commanders, directors, and civic leaders from the greater Los Angeles community.

“From homes in the surrounding communities, to medical facilities, police and fire departments, and city infrastructure, we rely on our community to succeed and thrive,” said Greaves. “Together, we service and support nearly 150,000 military retirees in the Los Angeles metropolitan area – the teamwork we exhibit fosters a positive community image and continues to highlight the birthplace of military space. Team SMC will continue to provide resilient and affordable capabilities to our nation, and (my spouse) Pat and I will always be proud to say that we have been a small part of this great organization.”

Hardly containing his enthusiasm to lead – and displaying a keen sense of humor – Thompson received his first salute from SMC Airmen and addressed the crowd after two sharp reports from ceremonial cannons reverberated across the parade grounds.

“So, saluted by a whole bunch of sharp looking troops…and some car alarms. Very nice. I appreciate that,” said Thompson to audience laughter. “It’s so great to be here at Fort MacArthur and the Space and Missile Systems Center. I really look forward to working with all of you. It is my great honor to be a part of SMC and the Air Force Space Command family. It’s an incredibly exciting time here in the space business, and it’s critical for our nation.”

Turning to General Raymond, Thompson made a point blank promise to his commanding officer.

“Boss, I’m going to meet those challenges for you as you laid out – both the blocking and tackling challenges of doing the space business, day in and day out – and also the new and innovative things that you need us to do; to make sure the United States of America maintains its advantage on the high frontier of space.” 

Recognizing that he “has a lot to learn about the space business” coming from Air Force Materiel Command (Thompson served as program executive officer for tankers at AFLCMC’s tanker directorate before he took the AFLCMC commander position in October 2014), the new SMC commander assured the audience of his intent to “build on the more than 60 years” of tremendous history and proud heritage in delivering everything from ICBMs to dozens of on-orbit capabilities critical to our nation’s defense.

“Not only do our warfighters count on SMC, but just about every citizen in the free world also counts on what SMC does for them every single day. So regardless of whether your job is Weather, Global Positioning System, Early Warning, Communications, or Launch, it doesn’t matter. You are an important cog in the United States, and in the Free World. You have a stellar record of mission assurance. You have lived up to that in spades,” said Thompson. “But, as our nation has always needed, we cannot continue to rest on our laurels and our proud heritage. We have to adapt, and we have to get better – and we will.

We have to shape SMC into an organization that’s focused on rapidly delivering space warfighting construct capabilities. We have to do that because we need to counter the growing threats we face around the world. And in this business, I literally mean, ‘Around the World’.”

Thompson reiterated SMC’s priority to continue “our long track record of mission assurance and success, both in ground segments, in launch, and on-orbit. So we still have to do that blocking and tackling I mentioned earlier. I’ve seen what you can do from afar, and I’ve admired it. Now, let’s see what we can do together,” said Thompson. “It’s my honor to be a part of this incredible team, and I look forward to meeting all of you – getting to know you, and getting to know your fantastic work.”   

Lt. Gen. Thompson entered the Air Force in 1984 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has served in a variety of scientific, acquisition and logistics-oriented capacities, including staff assignments at Air Force Systems Command, Air Force Materiel Command and in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. 

The 32-year Air Force veteran has been Chief of the Commodities Division, Ogden Air Logistics Center, Utah, and Chief of the Air Vehicle Division, C-17 System Program Office, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. He also served as Director of Propulsion, Oklahoma City ALC, Oklahoma, and Chief of Staff, Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson AFB. He has commanded the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Wing, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Wing, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, where he served as Air Force Program Executive Officer for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

General Thompson has also served as Air Force Program Executive Officer for Strategic Systems, Deputy Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, and KC-46 Program Director.

Thompson is a recipient of Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, and Air Force Organizational Excellence Award with four oak leaf clusters.

SMC, located at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, Calif., is the Air Force's center of acquisition excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems and space situational awareness capabilities.