The Public Affairs team sat down for an in-depth interview with Col. Thomas S. Rickard, Fort Meade’s new garrison commander, to introduce him to the community.
Q: What inspired you to pursue an Army career?
A: Like many other people here, I come from a military family and believe a tradition of service to our country is important. After I went to airborne school at 18, I fell in love with the Army.
My father, both grandfathers and an uncle — they each served 30 years or more in the Army, so there’s some family tradition there. It’s my turn to do my part to serve our nation.
Q: How has your family adjusted to Fort Meade?
A: My family loves Fort Meade. My wife, Lisa, and our daughter Sarah have had a super welcome here. We’re grateful to all the people who have put forth huge amounts of effort to make us feel at home in the community here.
Fort Meade is a lot greener than I imagined. Knowing that the surrounding areas are very built up and this is a very old part of our country, I was really impressed about how much green space there is here on the post.
Q: What is the appeal of Fort Meade for a garrison commander?
A: I learned a lot about Fort Meade during the last tour I had with Special Operations Command while deployed to Afghanistan. I learned to appreciate more about what Fort Meade does than in previous assignments. And, it intrigued me because Fort Meade is really at the confluence of information, intelligence and cyber activity — a true power projection platform.
So when I had the opportunity to command at Fort Meade, I was ecstatic. I thought this was an outstanding opportunity and a privilege for me to command here at the garrison.
Q: How do you think your experience as an infantry officer will inform your leadership of Fort Meade?
A: What I can directly provide is a fresh set of eyes from the point of view of someone who has been at the point of the spear. We’ve got a lot of people on this post who are actually fighting daily from a different venue. But, having been deployed and been the recipient of services — I’ve been the “supported” guy at lot — and now being the “supporting” guy, I think I have a good idea of what people need when it comes to real events and operational interests.
I have a good sense of what benefits service members, families and civilians versus some things we may take for granted and may not be quite as useful now. So, hopefully, I can bring a slightly different perspective, but with great respect for the work that’s being done here now.
Q: What is your leadership philosophy?
A: I’m not a big philosopher but I do believe and espouse the Army’s version of mission command, which is essentially providing good and clear guidance to your subordinates and allowing them to solve problems within intent without telling them exactly how to do it.
My job is to listen first, provide clear direction, appropriate resources and trained personnel, then allow people to solve problems the best way they can.
Q: What are your short-term goals as the FGGM commander?
A: My short-term goals for Fort Meade are twofold. The first thing is to make sure we don’t lose traction with the communication that Colonel Foley has advanced with DoD and the services’ senior leadership about what Fort Meade does and how important Fort Meade is to our national security interests. I think I’ve got to keep that traction going because it’s very important for our senior leaders to understand what we do here.
The second step is to let the service members, civilians and family members who live, learn, work and play here know that they are still going to get support.
Our challenge will be that we can’t provide everything we did 10 years ago because the budget has changed. But we will certainly provide those things we can to an excellent standard.
So what we do, we’re going to do well. And the things we can no longer do because we’re not funded or resourced for, we’re going to find ways to help our families adjust without them.
Q: What is your expectation of Fort Meade and its people?
A: I think our government’s goal, and my goal as well, is to make sure that our service members and our DoD civilians are resilient. What we know is that we don’t have all the funding that we wanted to have. So I hope that we can find ways to make our service members and civilians more resilient, self-empowered and self-reliant.
We want to be able to tackle the challenges we have and overcome those challenges in a positive way. And that’s really the mentality. It is all about the will to fight. Not necessarily fighting some enemy force at Fort Meade, but overcoming a challenge and never giving up. I think that’s what we’re all about.
Q: What does resiliency mean to you?
A: I believe there are five components of resiliency that the Army advocates. But for any service, it’s a combination of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and family relationships. So all these things are components of how you are able to overcome adversity — not just survive it, but also thrive in the environment you’re in.
I want to help our service members, family members and civilians have opportunities for what I call “positive crucibles” — those tough life events that turn out in positive ways. And those events inure you a little bit to the challenges that life brings you. The more positive crucibles you conquer, I believe, make you a stronger person.
In my own life, I try to keep a healthy balance with how I spend time with my family, how much time I spend at work, how I take care of myself. All these things are part of the overall resiliency that we are looking for in our service members, civilians and their families.
As for me, I bicycle, run, exercise, read, fish, hunt and shoot. A combination of outdoor activities is what I enjoy doing. So anytime I can get outdoors and not be always in an office, I’m a happy guy.
Q: What are “Positive Crucibles”?
A: It is not a coined term of my own, but it’s about those events that are challenges in your own life, and sometimes they are things that may be manufactured. They can be things like doing a tough “mudder” race or a triathlon. Or, it could be something that is mentally challenging — achieving a diploma or degree or overcoming an education deficit to achieve success. These are positive crucible moments. And when you achieve them, it’s a significant positive event in your life that presented a challenge to complete.
Each of us may be enduring some kind of crucible on any given day, and conquering these challenges makes you a stronger person. You are more able to handle life’s challenges — whatever they are. You’re able to do more for your community and your family.
It’s also good to let people know about your story when you’ve conquered one of these crucible events so that others might follow your example and succeed just as you did. I’m very interested in learning about crucibles conquered by those here in the Fort Meade community. We have very accomplished people in our community. We’ve got some incredibly accomplished people, each with a great story to tell.
Q: How can those positive crucibles help us improve service to our community?
A: We encourage others to be the best they can be with the God-given talents they have. As we overcome more of these crucibles, we expand our appreciation of judging difficult times and increase our ability to help others do the same.
To assuage the concerns of the staff and folks around me who are wondering if the new guy is going to start inventing crucibles, that’s not my plan. I have a lot to learn about Fort Meade and garrison command. I intend to follow through on all the great work that [former Garrison Command Col.] Brian Foley and the Fort Meade team have done to make Fort Meade the great place that it is.
Q: What is your command view regarding community relationships?
A: I want to remain open in our communication with our community partners. Just this last week, I’ve been introduced through a series of meetings to a lot of the key community partners and the different organizations that help support Fort Meade. I’m thoroughly impressed with their experience and vision. These are very experienced people, and they go out of their way to give volunteer hours to help support Fort Meade. And I want them to know that as I’m learning my job, I absolutely want to keep open lines of communication.
The most important thing I believe is keeping open communications. A lot of problems arise when people just are not understanding one another, or understanding what the government’s priorities are or the community’s priorities. So the more we communicate, talk and understand what’s going on around us, I think we can defray smaller problems and tackle larger problems together.
Q: What excites you about the garrison command at Fort Meade?
A: I’m looking forward to leading Soldiers, service members and civilians again. I’ve been working staff jobs for the last couple of years, which is normal for people at my career juncture. It’s a great privilege to be around Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guard personnel and DoD civilians in a command position where I can help influence change and make things better.
Q: What is your concept for staying in touch with the people of Fort Meade?
A: We’re going to sustain all the effective venues we currently have to keep people informed. I think face-to-face communication is very important where possible, but it’s not always feasible. We’ll continue our open door policy for community members to address their concerns in a professional and respectful way. I’m always interested to hear from our community members whenever they have positive or negative constructive comments about what’s going on around them.
Our digital venues — Facebook, Twitter and the other social media platforms — are also effective ways to kind of keep up the “infield” chatter so that we understand what’s going on around us.
Sir, thank you for your time and welcome to Fort Meade. We’re looking forward to serving with you