Missouri farmer retires from top homeland defense post

By Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher NORAD-USNORTHCOM Public Affairs


PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - When he isn’t serving as the Lafayette County, Mo., executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, he’s serving as one of the nation’s top homeland defense military officers.

A 1970 Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps graduate from the University of Missouri, Rear Adm. J. Stanton Thompson is the North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command Special Assistant for Reserve Matters to the Commander.

The ranking reservist in both commands, Thompson is responsible for the integration of reserve forces in homeland defense and military support to civil authorities, and serves as the principal advisor to the commander for maritime homeland defense.

“This assignment to NORAD and USNORTHCOM has more significance to me than any other I have ever had in my 35 years of military service,” Thompson said. “At NORAD and USNORTHCOM we are protecting my family, my neighbors and my friends from threats that before 9/11 we didn’t think would ever occur.”

The admiral noted his mission today greatly differs from the one he had while serving in Vietnam and Southwest Asia.

“I’m not serving in support of some other culture in the world,” Thompson explained. “We’re talking about friends and family in Missouri and folks all across our great nation … Americans in all walks of life.”

NORAD is a bi-national, United States and Canadian command that was formally established in 1958 to monitor and defend the North American airspace. USNORTHCOM was created in October 2002 with a two-fold mission: conduct operations to deter, prevent and defeat threats and aggression

aimed at the United States, its territories and interests and provide military assistance to civil authorities, including consequence management operations, as directed by the President or Secretary of Defense.

Many might find it ironic that Thompson has successfully scaled the military rank ladder in his 35 years of service, yet after 30 years with the USDA he has only five employees who work for him in his Lafayette County post.

“I am at the lowest rung of the ladder in the USDA chain of command,” said Thompson, who has been the Lafayette County executive director since 1982. The benefits of moving on to a higher-paid civilian position with the USDA have always been outweighed by the benefits of staying in the only place he’s ever wanted to live with his wife, Sandy, their three children and two grandchildren, and serving the farmers of Lafayette County.

“I have had opportunities in my civilian endeavors to climb up the business ladder, but I chose to live in rural America … and I wouldn’t leave rural America for love or money,” said the 1966 Slater (Mo.) High School graduate. “My military assignments have given me the chance to travel all around the world, and I’m grateful for that, but Higginsville is home.”

In Lafayette County, Thompson administers a budget of about $15 million, a combination of subsidy payments to farm producers and their loan programs.

“The office I run has one of the largest workloads in the state of Missouri,” the admiral said. “I deal with farmers every day.”

The admiral is proud to be the ranking active naval officer in Higginsville, a town with a population of 4,700, which is “not even the population of an aircraft carrier.” He noted there are retired Navy in Higginsville, but even if he was an ensign, as he was in 1970 after receiving his commission, he would still be the ranking “serving Naval officer” in town.

Thompson credits technology and his great supporting staff for making it possible for him to balance both careers.

“I’ve got my feet in two buckets,” he said. “So I have to very carefully balance my absences from my civilian and military jobs, and I have to get them both done.”

The admiral, who is in Colorado, on average, one week a month, has a full-time support staff at NORAD-USNORTHCOM that handles the day-to-day tasks. Thompson takes advantage of “virtual tools” to perform his assigned duties.

As for his civilian job back home, Thompson has “an absolutely great civilian staff” that has been with him for many years.

Thompson began making the monthly trip to Colorado Springs in February 2003 at the request of Air Force Gen. Ralph E. “Ed” Eberhart, USNORTHCOM’s first commander, because of the admiral’s expertise in port security harbor defense.

After two years of active duty service and 18 years as a drilling reservist in Missouri and Kansas, Thompson was recalled to active duty in September 1990 in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He served as the commander of Port Security Harbor Defense Group Two,
Port of Al Jubail, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he was responsible for the defense of the strategic port.

Since then, the admiral has helped identify forces and provide assets to Operation Uphold Democracy, was responsible for the seaward protection of vital logistic ports along the western seaboard of the United States, and was responsible for coordinating joint and combined exercises within the Pacific theater of operations.

A USNORTHCOM “plankowner,” that is, a person who was assigned to the command when it was first established, Thompson is the first to serve as the special assistant for reserve matters to the commander.

“One of the benefits of being a plankowner is that you can mold the integration of the reserve augmentee force in a more innovative way without having to worry about old ways of doing business,” he said. “So we are implementing an innovative way of completely integrating the Reserve Component members into the NORAD and USNORTHCOM headquarters, as well as our subordinate units.”

A successful 35-year career will come to an end July 9 during the admiral’s retirement ceremony at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo., an event Thompson hopes will bring the two cultures which define him together.

“My life has been really different … the people in my town don’t really have a vision of my military life at all … and the military people that I work with have limited experience of what it’s like to be in rural America amongst great Americans and neighbors and friends,” he explained.

The retirement ceremony will have military static displays on one side of the hangar -- including an Air Force A-10 close air-support aircraft and B-2 stealth bomber, an Army Apache helicopter, and Navy coastal warfare equipment – opposite a John Deere combine and tractor.

Although also eligible to retire from his civilian job, the admiral plans to continue managing the 160-acre family farm near Slater and working for the USDA for “at least another year or so,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to experience too big of a culture shock all at one time.”