LTC James J. Walton Bracelet (USMA '89)
LTC James J. Walton Bracelet (USMA '89)
March 31, 1967 - June 21, 2008
From very early in his life, LTC Jim Walton decided that he wanted to be a soldier. James Joseph Walton was born in Boston, MA, the fourth of five children of Donald and Mary Jane Walton. In the fourth grade, Jim read The West Point Story by COL Russell “Red” Reeder and promptly resolved to go to West Point to become a soldier. He steadily rose through the ranks of his military high school, becoming the cadet colonel of the school’s regiment, and then promptly obtained an appointment to the Academy. Jim used his time at West Point to hone his military leadership skills, always keeping to his own high standards and leading others to do the same. Being a Plebe under his mentorship could not always have been easy. To the end of his days, Jim went by the nicknames “Quill” and “Buz,” which he first acquired at the Academy, but these were used with a good deal of respect. As one fellow G-4 “Guppy” would recall years later, “Jim paid so much attention to my classmates and me because he cared for our development, our maturity, our well being, and our ultimate success. That concept was hard to see from the cold beverage corporal seat, but it didn’t take long to become crystal clear.”
Jim graduated from West Point in May 1989 and was commissioned in the Infantry. Following tours of duty in Germany and with the XVIIIth Airborne Corps in Ft. Bragg, NC, Operation Uphold Democracy—Haiti, Jim branch transferred to Aviation, where he served out the remainder of his career. For 18 months in Task Force Bravo, Korea, Jim’s soldiers benefited from his leadership style with one colleague recalling Jim as “gentle, yet firm, and he positively impacted everyone he came in contact with. Heck, he was even nice to us Air Force guys.” Jim then went on to serve as an executive officer in the 1-228 Aviation Regiment in Honduras in 2001–02.
Jim also cherished his recreations, but his “leisure” activities tended toward adventure and fitness. He obtained his civilian pilot’s license while attending the officer advanced course. He took up skydiving with great vigor, eventually logging over 2,000 jumps and earning a world record as part of an 85-member diamond canopy formation in 2005. Jims family fondly recalls the leave time “incident” in 1993 during Jim’s kayak of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and also his six-day bicycle ride from Richmond, VA, to Lexington, KY, in 2007 to celebrate turning 40.
As for his impact on others, not only did Jim positively affect the people he served with, his appeal was far broader than that. People from all walks who reflected on him have commented about Jim’s ever-present smile and compassion. In this regard, he and his wife Sarah were always a perfect fit. Jim married Sarah in 2004, and they lived together for four very happy years, albeit separated as required by military deployments. However, when they were together, Sarah and Jim were inseparable and volunteered their “leisure” time laboring at an animal rescue shelter in Utah on three separate “vacations.” They were also the favorite aunt and uncle of their nieces and nephews, taking the children on airplane rides and the nauseating boardwalk amusement park rides that the other adults avoided.
Jim served as camp commander of a training base in Kirkuk, Iraq in 2005–06. When that tour was completed and he returned to assignment at the Pentagon, Jim’s impatience with desk duty was evident. As one fellow officer noted, “I remember Jim couldn’t wait to get out of that building and into the war effort.” So, after a short stint as action officer on the J 3/4 staff, Jim deployed to Afghanistan at the end of 2007. One officer recalled that, on taking command of an embedded training team in Kabul, “Jim just oozed credibility; you knew immediately he knew what he was talking about, and every junior officer on the team walked away from meeting him remarking that he was what they wanted in a leader.” When a slot opened up for a leader of a police mentor team in Kandahar, Jim jumped at the chance because he believed, says a colleague, that “the PMTs are a critical shortage in Afghanistan and also where the most impact can be made.” It is certainly a tribute that when Jim was selected to serve in this capacity, an officer who had previously served under Jim “volunteered to jump over to his team...it would have been an honor to serve under Jim’s leadership and mentorship once again.” Jim and three of his soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device on 21 Jun 2008 during a PMT mission outside of Kandahar. It is satisfying to consider, however, that the very night beforehand, in an email to his father, Jim reflected on his life and the soldier course he had chosen, advising, “I just felt I needed to tell you, dad, that I’m truly happy doing what I am doing. You told me to find something I am good at and stick to it. Well, I found it—leading soldiers, training foreign countries to protect themselves. I am happy...I just wanted to let you know.”
In further tribute to his leadership and 19 years of commissioned service, the nearby Forward Operating Base was dedicated FOB Walton, and it remains a facility for Afghan training today, housing the Joint Readiness Coordination Center and the Afghan National Army NCO Academy. Jim gave his all for his mission, and, in doing so and in the leadership he exuded, he earned the accolades of his peers, his superiors and his soldiers. Indeed, there can be no greater tribute than that bestowed by Jim’s Sergeant Major, that in Jim’s passing, “I lost the best Army Officer I’ve worked with/for.”
Well done, LTC Walton. Be thou at peace.
“These things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.” (inscription on the marble plaque at FOB Walton.)
LTC Walton is survived by his wife Sarah Moschler Walton, his parents Donald & Mary Jane Walton, his sisters Kathleen Walton, LTC Kyle Marie Cottrell, & Diane Jewell, and his brother Donald C. Walton, III.