CSU alumnus Lt. Gen. James Dickinson has one of the most important jobs in the U.S. Army: Commander of Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala.
He’s quick to point out, however, that the lessons he learned while a CSU student (BS Engineering ’85), walk-on baseball player and Army ROTC cadet helped prepare him for a career that has stretched 33 years and made him the highest-ranking living CSU alumni in the U.S. military.
“Almost my entire family went to CU, but I was the first to come to CSU,” he said Friday after delivering the keynote address at the Veterans Symposium at Canvas Stadium. “I wanted to create my own path, and CSU gave me a chance to do that. I very much enjoyed my time here.”
Long career of service
Dickinson’s career has taken him all over the world, including stops in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Korea and U.S. bases in Nebraska, Texas, Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and his native Colorado (he was born in Boulder and grew up in Estes Park). His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and many others.
He was promoted in early 2017 to his current post, officially listed as Commander of Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense.
Dickinson grew up in a military family – his dad served in the Air Force – and utilized an ROTC scholarship to pay for school. His love for baseball – he was a catcher for two seasons for the Rams – helped lead him to CSU, where he followed another family tradition: studying engineering.
Finding his passion at CSU
It didn’t take him long to realize that playing a Division I sport, participating in ROTC and taking engineering classes was a taxing combination.
“After I saw my first report card, I knew I had to figure out what my priorities were,” he said with a laugh. “I love baseball, but I had to give it up after a couple of seasons.”
He immersed himself in CSU’s Army ROTC program and quickly discovered his passion.
“The ROTC program, as it is today with Col. (Troy) Thomas in command, had some very inspirational instructors,” he said. “They were very influential, sharing their experiences and telling the students what it’s like to be in the Army. When I graduated I was very happy because I knew exactly what I was going to do for the next four to five years in the Army. That really set me on my life’s course.”
Valued engineering education
He also lauded CSU’s engineering program, which provided valuable background for his current position.
“The last two jobs I’ve had, that engineering degree has served me very well,” he said. “There is lots of science and technology in the defense of air and space and because of that my engineering background helps me understand what’s happening. I’m not the expert in the room but I have a higher level of understanding because of what I learned in college.”
Ten years into his Army career, Dickinson was given a chance to purse a master’s degree in engineering. He spent two years at Colorado School of Mines, which gave him and his family a chance to be closer to his mother in Estes Park. (His father had passed away.)
Lauding his alma mater
Dickinson spends a fair amount of his time at the Space and Missile Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, which gave him the opportunity to speak at the Veterans Symposium and share his thoughts about the value of veterans in the work force. It was his first look at Canvas Stadium, but he remembers being impressed with campus when he returned three years ago to speak at CSU’s ROTC commissioning ceremony.
“I took a tour of campus and I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I recognized a few places on campus but it is dramatically different in terms of how great the infrastructure is. I think it’s indicative of the leadership they have at CSU, from the president on down, making the school what it is today. For an alum coming back, it’s a joy to see.”
Dickinson even got a chance to offer some encouraging words to the CSU football players Friday night on the eve of their game against heavily favored Arkansas; 24 hours later the Rams upset Razorbacks 34-27 at Canvas Stadium.