Keynote Speaker Set for 60th St. Nicholas Dinner

Marine Colonel to Address 2016 theme ‘Service: Love in Action’

by Chris Singel

This year, the annual St.Nicholas Charity Banquet, benefiting the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Saints Cyril and Methodius, celebrates its 60th anniversary with the theme “Service: Love in Action.”

Our keynote speaker is an
accomplished and brave Marine Colonel, Thomas Connally. His selfless dedication – along with all who serve in the military – demonstrate why they are ideal role models of service. Here are some key points to help you get to know this extraordinary serviceman.

HE PUTS SERVICE AND FAITH ABOVE ALL ELSE. Colonel Thomas Connally is a devoted Orthodox Christian with over 30 years of Marine leadership experience, “This is what I grew up always wanting to do; leading Marines,” Connally said. “Serving my country has always seemed like the highest of callings, right below the priesthood.”

While serving in Iraq from mid-2003 to late 2004 as the commanding office of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, Connally kept an icon of St. Barbara, a Christmas gift from his wife, with him. Tom attributes the surprising low
level of his battalion’s losses and casualties to, “the protection of St. Barbara and the blessings of the Lord and the Holy Trinity.” In his personal living quarters at Ar Ramadi, just down the road from Fallujah, 70 miles west of Baghdad, he made his own altar area. Before the icon of St. Barbara and several other smaller icons, then Lt. Col Connally did his daily devotionals.

St. Barbara’s icon helped Lt. Col. Connally prepare spiritually for the daily battles he and his unit faced for seven long months during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. The battalion’s mission was threefold: to conduct combat convoy security escort; to provide stability and security in a 48,000 sqkm area of operation in southwest Iraq, along the Saudi Arabian border; and to run the regional detention facility in Ar Ramadi.

In addition to his daily devotionals, Connally always attended church services. And since there was no Orthodox chaplain at the base camp, Connally alternately attended the Catholic Mass and Protestant service on Sundays,
“just so my men knew that I was going to church. I thought it was important that they saw their leaders going to services. I always encouraged my subordinates to attend. The platoons came up with their own prayers before patrols. One thing that I learned is that faith is much more tolerable in a combat zone.”

Just before deploying to Iraq, Connally got word he had been selected for promotion, and he knew that meant he would have to leave the battalion for further school once they returned to the States. So he commissioned a larger icon of St. Barbara he could give as a parting gift for the battalion headquarters at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
“I would like to know she’s there always protecting them,” Connally said. At a change of command ceremony, Connally
presented his battalion with a larger St. Barbara icon he commissioned just for them, stating, “remember, no matter
where you go, or what you do, gentlemen, St. Barbara’s got your back.”


Colonel Connally is part of a family with a long history of military service:

  • Connally’s seventh generation grandfather was a recruiter in Virginia for the Continental Army during the American Revolution and a veteran of the French and Indian War.
  • During the Civil War, Col. John K. Connally was commander of the 55th North Carolina Regiment.
  • Army Private First Class Pled Connally, Connally’s grandfather, fought alongside the 5th and 6th Marine
    Regiments during the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I.
  • Boyce Connally, Thomas’ father, served in the 1st Marine Division as a Navy Corpsman in the Pacific during World War II.

As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2, Connally was the Commanding Officer of the 3d Battalion, 11th Marines in 29 Palms/Ar Ramadi, Iraq from mid-2003 to late-2004.

He was responsible for over 700 personnel battalion in a hostile environment, conducting 698 combat convoy security missions delivering 12,000 people and 24,500 laden vehicles, over 11,000 miles while maintaining 200 vehicles. Then, Thomas served as the Force Fires Coordinator (July 2006 – July 2007) and a Commanding Officer (July 2007 – June 2009), overseeing thousands of military personnel and their families in Okinawa, Japan.


When not overseas, Thomas has held various leadership positions from Senator of the Corps to Senior Fellow, using his experience and education for strategic planning, logistics and analysis. Connally graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a BS in Engineering, completed graduate level training at the Marine Corps University and also graduated from the Naval War College with an MA in National Security and Strategic Studies.

Thomas was a Senior Staff Officer, working at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. where he was only about 100 feet from the impact of American Flight #77 when it crashed on September 11, 2001.

Currently, Thomas is the Director of the Marine Corps Programs at R&M Technology Solutions. His role includes Business strategy development, SME strategic planning, future force development, and organizational development. Connally is a member of Nativity of Our Lord CarpathoRussian Orthodox Church in Manassas, Virginia.