A native of Marietta, Oklahoma, General Thurman earned his commission through ROTC at East Central Oklahoma University in 1975. His first three commands were in Germany where he led a troop in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 2d Squadron, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment; followed by the 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division. He then commanded 2d Brigade, 3d Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. His next assignment was as the Commander, Operations Group at the National Training Center and later as the Commanding General. He then commanded 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas and Baghdad, Iraq. He commanded V Corps in Germany and U.S. Army Forces Command.
His most recent assignment was as Commander, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and US Forces Korea. General Thurman has significant Army and Joint staff experience, including Assistant to the Chief of Staff for Plans and Policy(J5), Allied Forces Southern Europe, Regional Command South in Italy; Director of Training, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3, Headquarters, Department of the Army; Chief, Operations, Coalition Forces Land Component Command, C3, in Kuwait; Director, Army Aviation Task Force, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3, Headquarters, Department of the Army; and Deputy Chief of Staff, G3/5/7, Headquarters, Department of the Army. He has extensive operational combat experience. His combat assignments were as a battalion executive officer in the 1st Cavalry Division during Desert Shield/Storm from 1990-91; the Chief of the Plans and Policy Division for Allied Forces Southern Europe in Kosovo from 1999-2000; the Chief of Operations, C3, for the Coalition Forces Land Component Command during the invasion of Iraq from 2002-03; and the Multi-National Division Commander responsible for all coalition operations in Baghdad in 2006.
General Thurman holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from East Central Oklahoma University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University. He has attended numerous military schools and is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College and the Army War College. His military awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal (four oak leaf clusters), the Defense Superior Service Medal (one oak leaf cluster), the Legion of Merit (three oak leaf clusters), the Bronze Star Medal (one oak leaf cluster), the Meritorious Service Medal (five oak leaf clusters), the Army Commendation Medal and the Army Achievement medal (three oak leaf clusters). General Thurman is a Senior Aviator and has earned the Combat Action Badge, the Parachutist Badge, the Army Staff Identification Badge and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge. General Thurman relinquished command of United Nations Command, Republic of Korea – United States Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea on October 2, 2013 and retired from active duty 1 December 2013.
General Thurman has been married to the former Delia Lee Hilton for 42 years. They have two daughters, Jaime Crystal Brown and Carey Lee Thomas who is deceased.
Since his retirement from the US Army. General retired Thurman operates JD Thurman Enterprises a Strategic Consultant business. Since March 2014, he is a strategic consultant for Bell Helicopter a Textron Company on the Future Vertical lift program.
He serves on an Advisory Board for General Electric for Aircraft Engines since April of 2014.
He is a Military Consultant for the Independent Analysis Agency in Alexandria, Virginia.
He is a Senior Fellow at National Defense University for Capstone, Keystone and Pinnacle.
In March of 2015, General Thurman was appointed by Senator John McCain Chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee to serve as one of the eight Commissioners on the National Commission on the Future of the United States Army. The Commission duties were completed on 1 April 2016.