MILITARY & VETERANS AFFAIRS
(16 July, 2009)
A Career Full Of Firsts
In 2005, Col. Loretta Thomas became the first woman to command a New Jersey Army National Guard battalion in combat.
Two years later, she became the first woman from the New Jersey National Guard to graduate from the Army War College.
The Coopersburg, Pa. resident recorded yet another first on Saturday (July 11) when she became the first woman to take charge of one of the state's major subordinate commands, the National Guard Bureau Joint Training and Training Development Center at Fort Dix.
With a staff of nearly 100, the center develops, tests and fields computer simulators that allow soldiers to practice tactics in a virtual environment that can replicate everything from a foot patrol through a crowded market in Afghanistan to the ambush of a convoy on a deserted Iraqi highway. The center is informally known as the Battle Lab.
Thomas is replacing Col. Anthony J. Formica, who is retiring after a 35-year military career.
She said she's looking forward to taking command of a “center of excellence.”
“We have some amazingly smart people here,” she said. “A lot of them have done combat as infantrymen yet they understand how to write the computer code for these simulators.”
Before this assignment, Thomas spent two years as the Chief of Mobilization, Plans and Operations at Fort Dix. Nearly 20,000 Soldiers passed through the installation during that time, many of them mobilizing for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Thomas said one of her goals is to increase the number of Soldiers who use the Battle Lab to train before shipping out. Although the facility is operated by the National Guard, it is open to all branches of the armed services in the active and reserve components.
Thomas understands the need to have troops adequately prepared for combat.
She commanded the National Guard's 250th Signal Battalion during its 2005 deployment to Iraq. The battalion's 450 soldiers were responsible for all communications in a region of northern Iraq as large as West Virginia. The following year, she was the first woman from the New Jersey National Guard to graduate from the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
But Thomas said the highlight of her career has been offered command of the Battle Lab.
“It's an honor because what we do here is so important,” Thomas said.
Thomas received her commission in 1983 through the Army ROTC program at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. Her military career has included assignments in Europe, North Carolina and Florida.
She has two children, Nicholas, 15, and Samantha, 12.