Anna native new commander at Fort Leonard Wood
It was a love of sports that started former Union County resident Brig. Gen. James Bonner on a career path towards military command.
“I love sports. I love playing sports. I love contact sports. And it left kind of a void after leaving high school and going to college. And to me, the military provided that piece of leadership, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to serve on a team,” said Bonner. “And it’s one of the greatest teams that we have."
After high school, Bonner joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and in 1988 received a Regular Army Commission as a distinguished military graduate from Southern Illinois University.
“My real goal was I wanted to join the Army and I wanted to be an airborne Ranger,” said Bonner. “I ended up serving in a Ranger battalion, and three months later I was doing a combat parachute assault into Panama for Operation Just Cause.”
Throughout his distinguished career, the Anna native, Anna-Jonesboro Community High School graduate and SIU alum has served his country in posts all over the world, including two deployments to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.
Bonner also rose through the levels of command, achieving his current rank of brigadier general in 2016.
On June 26, Brig. Gen. Bonner assumed command of U.S. Army training installation Fort Leonard Wood at a change-of-command ceremony.
His previous posting was as Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Command commanding general at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Located in the Missouri Ozarks, Fort Leonard Wood is home of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, where all chemical, engineer and military police officers receive training. Fort Leonard Wood trains and educates over 80 thousand troops a year.
“For me I like to keep things very simple. I ask myself, what are the Army’s priorities and what are the priorities for the Training and Doctrine Command, which is my higher headquarters?” said Bonner.
“If the organization can get behind the Army’s priorities, which are taking care of our people, contributing to readiness by generating trained and prepared leaders and modernizing our formations including equipment, we will do great. The team has already been very successful and I hope to continue the momentum and adjust if conditions require.”
Bonner is not new to Fort Leonard Wood, with this assignment being his fourth at the post.
“Both of my children graduated from the high school here,” said Bonner. “It’s a wonderful place to serve and a wonderful place to raise a family.”
A return to the Midwest also brings Bonner closer to his hometown, a place that still holds special significance.
“My parents have since relocated to Florida, but my in-laws still live in Anna. So I have an opportunity to go back, and that connection is still there.”
“And I’m still active with SIU,” Bonner continued, “and I’m proud to be able to go back and mentor the ROTC cadets and have an opportunity to do their commissioning.”
Brig. Gen. Bonner’s last public appearance in Anna was as the keynote speaker at a dedication ceremony for a monument in downtown Anna honoring veterans and fallen comrades.
Honoring veterans is a solemn responsibility that Bonner takes very seriously.
“We can never forget our veterans. Veterans and the path that they made for us. And the ability for us to maintain our freedom is phenomenal. To be able to be part of an event like that is an honor,” said Bonner.
“It’s all out the sense of public virtue,” Bonner continued. “And so, although we are talking about our veterans and so forth, I have a strong belief that our teachers or coaches, mentors, all of them have an impact, and they are serving something larger than themselves.”
Brig. Gen. Bonner took command of Fort Leonard Wood in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has been responsible for a wide array of difficulties and challenges to many industries and institutions. Particularly for military training facilities.
“We can’t change our standards of training. And we continue to train America’s sons and daughters to standard. But we adjust our environment to protect the force and keep people safe,” said Bonner.
Examples of the adjustments that the military have been undertaking include testing on all new recruits arriving to the training base, increased hygiene measures, training soldiers in a controlled, monitored status prior to training in large groups, as well as standard social distancing and mask requirements.
“The thing about the military is how adaptive and agile we are,” Bonner continued. “What we’ve done and the measures we’ve put in place have been absolutely phenomenal, from all across the military and the leadership.”
As both a highly decorated officer as well as the commanding general of the military’s largest training facility, Bonner knows well the vast range of career opportunities that the military offers.
“The military has great opportunities,” said Bonner. “There is such an amazing amount of different routes inside the military expertise that you can join and serve and do.
“I go back to the sense of the public virtue of serving something larger than yourself. And being on a winning team. Winning matters, and we have a phenomenal team in the military.”