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NORAD, USNORTHCOM Director of Joint Training, Exercises Retires

By LCDR Michael Hatfield NORAD and U.S. Northern Command

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Joseph C. Bonnet III ended his distinguished 50-year career of service to his country, retiring during a ceremony June 12, 2020, from his Colorado Springs home surrounded by family and streamed online to friends and coworkers.

The commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, General Terrance J. O’Shaughnessy, presided over the virtual ceremony, which included virtual high-level representation from a number of senior officials including: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Integration and DSCA, Robert G. Salesses; Lieutenant-General Christopher J. Coates, deputy commander of NORAD and Command Sergeant Major Paul G. McKenna, senior enlisted leader for NORAD and USNORTHCOM.

Described by his leaders, coworkers and friends as a pillar of kindness, selflessness and teamwork, Bonnet is excited about this new chapter in life for himself, his wife Nancy and their three dogs that he called his “kids.”

“People have asked me if I’m prepared to be retired, and I tell them that we’ve been practicing every Saturday,” said Bonnet. “And starting tomorrow, every day is Saturday.”

As a Senior Executive Service appointee, “Joe” Bonnet served as NORAD & USNORTHCOM’s director of joint training and exercises following many years of service in the Department of Defense’s Joint Staff and more than 23 years of active service as a U.S. Army officer.

Joe received a number of awards and decorations during the ceremony honoring his time in service to his country including the Outstanding Civilian Career Service Award, Deputy Commander North American Aerospace Defense Command Commendation, U.S. Marine Corps Forces North Appreciation Award, the President’s Certificate of Appreciation for service in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, a Certificate of service from the United States Air Force, and an Air Force retirement pin symbolizing the 20-year service to the U.S. Air Force as a civil servant.  

He and Nancy are moving to Tampa, Fla. where they plan to split time between the gulf shores and Costa Rica.

At NORAD & USNORTHCOM, Bonnet led more than 160 personnel in five divisions covering joint exercises; joint training and education; qualification training; joint resources and readiness; and assessor authority training. He led a comprehensive transformation initiative to completely review, analyze, and reorganize the Training and Exercise Directorate around a Homeland Defense imperative.

He implemented Homeland Defense ideas that nobody thought to do before, such as integrating the actual Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff into exercises, playing themselves instead of having others roleplay them in the scenario.

He was also responsible for training the senior military leaders who are called upon at any hour to assess whether or not an aircraft or missile is a threat to the Homelands.

“Those assessors are the ones our nations depend upon on our worst day when we must make challenging and difficult decisions for the president and prime minister,” said O’Shaughnessy.  

He even greatly influenced the government of Canada.

“The role that Joe had in pushing exercises up into Canada leading to significant policy discussions in Ottawa has had a long and lasting impact,” said Coates.

In uniform, Bonnet held a number of combat arms command and staff assignments within the United States and overseas, including two battalion commands. He also served two joint tours while on active duty: with the Joint Staff, and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Germany and in combat in Bosnia.

Gen. O’Shaughnessy said that every once in a while during meetings when things got contentious Bonnet’s days as a former Army Ranger Instructor and Air Assault School Instructor would come out.

“Every once in a while in those heated discussions you could see it in his eyes,” said O’Shaughnessy. “He’d go back to those Ranger days and you’d know that Joe’s not someone to be messed with.”  

After retiring from active duty, Bonnet accepted a series of positions in the defense industry, culminating in 2001 with support for the force structure, resources and assessment directorate of the Joint Staff. In 2002, he entered the civil service as deputy of the warfighting concepts and architectures integration division of the Joint Staff.

After being appointed to the Senior Executive Service, Bonnet was the Joint Staff’s vice director of operational plans and joint force development directorate before moving to Colorado to join the NORAD and USNORTHCOM team.

“If there’s a theme to how I feel looking back on this five decade journey, it is gratitude,” said Bonnet. “I am humbled by the help I have received and lessons I’ve learned from so many people. So, for all of you, thank you.  Thank you for this [ceremony], thank you for helping us make the system and the team better, and on a personal and more selfish note, thank you for the memories.”

As is fitting for a national security leader who has spent five decades making everything and everyone around him better, Bonnet concluded his remarks by addressing those he had trained, guided, served alongside and led.

“I’m going to sleep well tonight,” he said. “And I’m going to sleep well every night because I know you, and you have the watch!”