Thomas W. O’Connell

  • Honorable (Colonel)
  • Vietnam & Grenada


Honorable Thomas W. O’Connell is a native of Jamestown, Rhode Island; and he was a 1964 graduate of Rogers High School in Newport, Rhode Island. Tom played baseball and golf in high school. He entered the University of Rhode Island in the fall of 1964 and enrolled in the Army four-year Army ROTC program. He was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity and was elected treasurer and president. Tom was a representative to the Interfraternity Council and participated in track his freshman year.

In 1968, Tom graduated from URI with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Intelligence and detailed to Infantry branch for two years. He was a Distinguished Military Graduate. After an Infantry tour with the 4th Armored Division in Erlangen, Germany, Captain O’Connell completed tactical intelligence and advisor training and served in Southeast Asia as a field advisor to Vietnamese forces, including duties in the PHOENIX Program, and was awarded three medals for valor.

After serving as a Combat Intelligence instructor and Company Commander at the Army Intelligence Center, Captain O’Connell spent three years with the 82nd Airborne Division as an intelligence officer at battalion, brigade, and division levels. Major O’Connell then spent two years on exchange duty with the British Army at the Joint Service Intelligence Centre in the United Kingdom, where he commanded the Foreign Armed Services Branch and allied liaison and Special Operations personnel on tactical and strategic collection against the Warsaw Pact nations. He was then assigned as the Senior Intelligence Officer to 1st SFOD-DELTA from 1980 to 1983.
Lieutenant Colonel O’Connell then commanded the 313th MI Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division for two years. After attendance at the Naval War College, he returned to Fort Bragg as the Director of Intelligence, J2, Joint Special Operations Command and continued in the Special Operations Intelligence field with a two and one-half year brigade command of an Army Special Mission Unit.

Following a short tour as the Deputy Director of Special Operations Command’s Washington Office, he was selected as an original member of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of Military Affairs in 1993. He retired in the summer of 1995 after 27 years of continued service.

Colonel O’Connell’s career included participation in four conflicts: Vietnam, Granada, Panama, and Southeast Asia, as well as various assignments to 33 countries. After retirement, he served with the Raytheon Corporation for seven years. He was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the US Senate in 2003 to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict. In this position, he had oversight of 52,000 US Special Operations Command personnel and a 9 billion dollar annual budget. Upon leaving the Pentagon in April 2007, he received the Department’s highest award for civilian service.

Some of Colonel O’Connell’s awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with One Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star with V device and Two Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Defense Meritorious Medal, Meritorious Medal, with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal with two V devices and four Oak Leaf Clusters, Humanitarian Service Medal, Joint Service Achievement Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Master Parachutist, Expert Infantry Badge, Department of Defense Distinguish Service Award, and the US Coast Guard Distinguished Service Award.

Honorable Thomas W. O’Connell currently is an independent defense and intelligence consultant, and serves on several boards. He has spent his entire life serving his community and nation during peace and war. His exemplary devotion to duty, personal bravery and outstanding leadership is in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his family and the University of Rhode Island.

He and his wife Patricia reside in Alexandria, Virginia. Their two sons, Andrew and Kevin are combat veterans.  Thomas W. O’Connell died suddenly in 2016 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.