Soldier traded uniform for suit
By Bob Arnold
The lyrics of an old English folklore song say "old soldiers never die; they simply fade away."
Many soldiers, in fact, rather trade in their uniforms for suits and continue their military service as civilians. A case in point is Copiah Countian Bobby Thornton, who retired as a Colonel with the honorary rank of Brigadier General in 2010 after 33 years of service in the Army National Guard (ANG) and regular Army, and became part of the massive corps of civilians, including the President and often the Secretary of Defense, that assures the effective functioning of the U.S. military.
Thornton, who is the current Commander of the Wesson Drane-Prine American Legion Post 79, set out on his career path in 1977, joining the ANG as a private after graduating from high school at Copiah Academy. "My high school senior year trip was National Guard basic training during the summer," he jokes.
Thornton grew up with a brother and sister outside Hazlehurst, where his father operated a barber shop. He recalls biking into town where he swam at the pool and played at the old Hazlehurst recreation center. At Copiah Academy, he played baseball and football, and heaved the shot put for the track team.
Although he shined shoes at his father's barber shop at age 12 to earn spending money, Thornton just naturally looked to the military when it came time to think about career choices. "I followed in the footsteps of my father and grandfather," he explains. "They both served in the National Guard."
Before beginning full time work in the ANG in 1982 as a Property Book Technician responsible for inventory management at Monticello, Mississippi, and then serving as an Auditor, Contracting Officer, Financial Manager and Comptroller at Jackson, Thornton studied business at Co-Lin, worked for Mickey's, a family-owned restaurant, and attended Officers Candidates School to prepare to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the ANG.
In 2004, the Army mobilized Thornton at Camp Shelby Forces Training Center, where he served until his retirement in 2010 as Director of Resource Management, Deputy Commander for Mobilization, Deputy Garrison Commander for Installation and Acting Commander. Rather than fading away after that, the not-so-old soldier jumped immediately as a civilian to serve as Supervisory Budget Analyst for the U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) Southeast Region in Atlanta. In 2011 and 2012, he served as an IMCOM Atlantic Region's Senior Region Support Team Specialist at Joint Base Langley Eustis at Fort Eustis, Virginia.
Thornton's next step as a civilian was to the District 11 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service at New Orleans, where he served as Chief of Staff responsible for program management, advice and guidance, staffing supervision and performance management. Seeking to return the area where he grew up, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers located in Vicksburg in 2018 to become Chief of the Mission Support Office and assume responsibility for the Safety and Occupational Health Program, Public Affairs, Hiring Actions, Telework Program and Administrative Support.
For his military service, Thornton received the U.S. Army Legion of Merit and Mississippi Magnolia Cross. Following his service in uniform, he has received the U.S. Army Commander's Award for Civilian Service and the U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Award. He also completed a BS in Business Administration at Mississippi College in 1994 and earned an a MBA at Jackson State University and a Master's in Strategic Science from the U.S. Army War College.
Thornton and his wife Dixie, whom he met at Co-Lin, are parents of a grown daughter, Emily.
What are your hobbies? I enjoy hunting and riding in my pontoon boat on Lake Lincoln. I am an active member of Sylvarena Baptist Church, where I am a Deacon and trustee and serve on the finance committee.
I joined the American Legion while serving at Camp Shelby, and have become very active in the organization over the past four years. In addition to involvement with Wesson Drane-Prine American Legion Post 79, I also wear a white Legionaire hat, testifying to my service as Department Finance Officer for the Department of Mississippi American Legion. The American Legion is the oldest veterans organization, and I would encourage others to become part of it.
Are you a reader?
Most of my reading focuses on military topics related to my career.
How about music?
I sing in my church choir, am a fan of Bill Gaither's Gospel music and enjoy country and and 70s rock music.
Do you enjoy movies or theater?
I am a fan of Tim Allen in the television situation comedy, Last Man Standing.
What would you do with lottery winnings if you were so lucky?
I would give my church ten percent, save and invest the rest.
How would you change the world? I try to do what is right one day at a time, even when no one is looking. Over the course of my career, I have enjoyed helping meet pay and benefit needs of people I have supervised. I am most proud of convincing the Veterans Administration to install a full-time counselor at Camp Shelby to educate returning Vietnam veterans about their benefits.