Major General James Adkins: ‘Peace and quiet in my future!’

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Retired Major General Jim Adkins, at the WWII Memorial in Cambridge, remembering his uncles and great uncles who served, and one, Preston Harper, who never came home. General Adkins is home now, retired from the military and looking forward to a quiet, peaceful future.

CAMBRIDGE — Major General Jim Adkins was honored by Governor Larry Hogan at a change of command and retirement ceremony at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore on Feb. 28. His retirement marked the end of seven years of service as Adjutant General of Maryland. At the ceremony, Governor Hogan unveiled General Adkins’ official portrait. Mary Anne Adkins was also recognized by Governor Hogan for her support during General Adkins’ career.

General Adkins is no stranger to the Dorchester Banner, serving in the past as a contributor as well as subject of many stories about his exploits during his career. He is a lifelong Eastern Shore native who carries fond memories of his early life in the region.

“I lived in the country near Church Creek and would spend every weekend and my summers with my grandparents at Bishops Head,” the General told us. “I had a great deal of freedom to explore, and gained a great appreciation for nature, especially the water and woods.”

James Adkins attended the one-room schoolhouse in Church Creek, which was lauded in 1966 as being the “last one in the county,” by the Daily Banner.

“I attended the same one room schoolhouse that my father had attended at Church Creek,” General Adkins told us. The school, at the time of its closing, served 15 students from grades 1 through 6.

After graduating Cambridge High School in 1972, Mr. Adkins served two years with the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office before deciding to join the Army. His first assignment after boot camp was the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., where he studied the Russian language, a verbal skill that would serve him well during his military career. We asked him about how well his language skills served him.

“First of all, my time at the Defense Language Institute taught me how to study. It was an intense program and one where you eventually think and dream in the language. I used the language in the Far East during the 1970s during the days of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. Later it was very helpful as I worked with the former Soviet Republic of Estonia on its transition to an independent nation and eventual member of NATO.”
Although one wouldn’t expect Russian language proficiency would be helpful on the Eastern Shore, General Adkins also had opportunity to use his language skills close to home.

“The language was obviously helpful during my official duties assigned to military intelligence, but some of my favorite stories were encounters with Russians here in the US when they weren’t expecting to meet someone who knew their language.

“Many aren’t aware that there is a Russian retreat on the Corsica River in Queen Anne County. I was assigned as a liaison officer to federal and state drug enforcement agencies. Early one morning during a blizzard in the 90s, I monitored on my police radio a trooper on Route 301 calling for assistance from his barrack. Apparently he was out with two Russians who were stranded and claimed to speak no English. They were not cooperating with the trooper and his duty officer wasn’t able to give him much advice.

“I arrived at the scene where the trooper had them in the backseat of his car. The trooper came back to my vehicle to express his frustration with their uncooperative nature. I walked to the trooper’s car and got in behind the wheel and looked back at the Russians and introduced myself in Russian as a colonel. Needless to say, they became very cooperative. The trooper turned them over to me and I ended up taking them back to their compound after a nice conversation along the way. I knew they were not going to have a good day after abandoning their car, being picked up by the State Police and then brought home by an Army colonel in military intelligence.”

His key opportunity to use his foreign language skill came into play when the Berlin wall came down and the USSR was no more. We asked Mr. Adkins about his relationship with Eastern Bloc countries.

“I was fortunate as a young officer to be responsible for establishing the partnership with Estonia, almost 22 years ago. We also have a partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“As the Cold War came to an end and the Soviet Union dissolved, the US looked for ways to engage the former republics without threatening Russia. One of my first memories of visiting Estonia was seeing the little children and knowing that if our engagement was successful, their lives would be completely different than the lives of their parents growing up in the Soviet system.

“The partnership led to friendships, and eventually Estonia became a member of NATO and an ally. Officers that I worked with over two decades ago became senior leaders in the armed forces of Estonia. One time the Chief of Defense for Estonia and I were in a meeting with the Supreme Allied Commander-Europe. The Admiral asked us how long we had known each other and I told him 18 years. Those enduring relationships are critical to our efforts around the world.”

During the partnership transition, General Adkins brought Estonians to Dorchester County, significantly to study emergency management operations in the county and learn how to apply them to their home needs. A Lieutenant Colonel at the time, Adkins was awarded the prestigious Order of the White Cross by the Republic of Estonia for all his work on Estonia’s behalf.

James Adkins served his active duty with the Army, then moved over to the National Guard until 1997, when he served as a civilian, including Chief of Staff and Assistant Adjutant General for state operations until 2003.

“I then went to the Department of Veterans Affairs and served in several assignments there including Secretary until I was appointed as Adjutant General in 2008. The Secretary of the Army then brought me out of retirement to serve as Adjutant General until my retirement in January of 2015. For 11 years during the Ehrlich and O’Malley administrations, I served at the deputy secretary or secretary level in the Cabinet.”

It was a long, adventurous journey; one that Jim Adkins occasionally looks back on in wonder. “I considered myself very lucky to go from that one room schoolhouse at Church Creek to serve in two different Cabinet positions for the Governor.”

Now in his early 60s, a fairly young age to retire in the 21st Century, we asked why he took the step now.

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Governor Larry Hogan honored General Adkins at the change of command and retirement ceremony at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore. Mary Anne Adkins was also recognized by Governor Hogan for her support during General Adkins’ career.

“I thought this was a natural time to retire. My philosophy is that no leader should stay too long in one assignment, and I was approaching 7 years as Adjutant General. Criteria for appointment to Adjutant General is established by Maryland law. In August of last year I had sent letters to all eligible National Guard officers asking if they wanted to be considered. The day after the election in November the Governor-elect received a letter from me explaining the criteria and process along with the bios of those officers who wanted to be considered. Governor Hogan, with the appointment of Major General Linda L. Singh, made an historic appointment of the first African American and the first woman to hold the position of Adjutant General.”

It was a long road, but one General Adkins now looks forward to seeing in his rear view mirror.

“Forty years ago when I decided to join the Army, I knew I would be leaving my family and friends to experience a different way of life. I had a wonderful career in the military and in government, and I’m looking forward to my transition back to life as a private citizen.”

But what will he do to pass the time? “I have a great interest in our history and the beauty of the Eastern Shore that I hope to share through photography. Also, I descend from several Revolutionary War patriots from Dorchester County, so I am serving in the leadership of the Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution to promote our history and patriotism. I am sure there is no shortage of worthwhile causes to support that align with my interests.”

Will we be seeing a lot more of Retired General Adkins? “While I still have a house in Cambridge, I moved to Salisbury in preparation for retirement. I wanted to be closer to the university and to my other home in Crisfield. My wife is from Crisfield and her mother still lives there, so now we are halfway between my mother in Linkwood and her mother in Crisfield.”

We had to ask one more question — maybe only partly in jest, considering the upcoming election season. He laughed as he answered it: “No, No presidential bid or political bid of any kind. Just peace and quiet in my future.”

We’re hoping General Adkins — Jim Adkins now — might go back to his old ways and pen a story for The Dorchester Banner now and then. Congratulations on a career well-served, Mr. Adkins. Welcome home.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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