Army's first hypersonics director receives his third star
By Megan Cotton Gully, U.S. Army Materiel Command Public Affairs
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (April 25, 2019) -- As fate would have it, 36 years and a day after his father swore him into the United States Army as a private first class, Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood received his third star.
"As a young man, I was inspired to serve this great nation by my parents," said Thurgood, whose father served two aviation combat tours in Vietnam. "I knew that I wanted to be a part of something great. I wanted to serve a team that would risk all for the ones they love most and the ones they cherish."
Thurgood assumed his duties as the Director of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition following Senate confirmation at the end of March. In this position, he directs the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, which includes the Hypersonics Project Office. Thurgood's formal promotion ceremony took place on April 24.
The ceremony's host, Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, said selecting Thurgood for the position was no accident. When McCarthy was directed by the former Secretary of Defense James Mattis to work across the services to develop hypersonics, McCarthy said, one name kept coming up.
"I was directed to put the funding, the resources, and the energy into hypersonics -- but also to find the right leadership. We needed the right person, with the strength of will and the skills to drive this effort forward," said McCarthy. "I have no doubt that we have the right person, within the first two or three weeks he has masterfully framed the problem and what it will take to get there."
Following his enlistment in 1983, Thurgood was commissioned in 1986 as an aviation branch officer. In his 36-year career, he has been no stranger to Redstone Arsenal, having served previously as the project manager for Utility Helicopters, Program Executive Office for Aviation; and the Program Executive Officer for Missiles and Space. Most recently he served as the Director for Test at the Missile Defense Agency.
"I believe and I know that every position, every task, every success and failure in the past 36 years has prepared me to serve at this time and in this position," said Thurgood. "Now is our time, it is our team of people and this is our place for success. There will be starts and stops, successes and failures but in the end victory will be ours, of that there is no doubt."
The RCCTO is chartered to develop rapid prototypes and field residual combat capabilities, focusing on the areas of hypersonics, directed energy and space. Originally launched in 2016 as the Rapid Capabilities Office, the organization received its new name and mission through a new charter signed in December 2018 by Secretary of the Army Mark Esper.
Now, the RCCTO is charged with delivering the Army's Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), working in close coordination with PEO Missiles and Space and the Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team. Going faster than the speed of sound, the LRHW is a strategic weapon that will introduce a new class of ultrafast, maneuverable, long-range missiles with rockets that can launch from ground platforms.
The mission is to field a prototype LRHW at the battery level in Fiscal Year 2023.
"All of my energies are focused on a single outcome, fielding in 2023," Thurgood said. "Our refocused effort demands our full attention, our full measure of strength, and it requires our leaders to make difficult decisions. But there is no other outcome."
"Secretary McCarthy, you will get my best effort and you will get the support of my family," Thurgood said. "Together as a team, we as an Army and as a nation, will rise to the challenge and defend the freedom that was passed to us, so we can give that to our children."
Upon receiving his third star, Thurgood paid tribute to his family, which included his wife Shauna, daughters Kirsten and Jessica; his father, retired Lt. Col. Leon Thurgood and mother Donna; and his mother-in-law LuDean Smith, as well as all the countless Soldiers and leaders who mentored him along the way.
"As we climb the mountain in this profession, you are never alone, it is a team of people helping you to get to the top of the mountain," Thurgood said.