Ironwood hails from the region of Atlas, where he is the headmaster of Atlas Academy. He also serves as a senior officer in the Atlesian military, where he holds the rank of general, and he additionally holds two seats in the ruling council. His military actively cooperates with the Schnee Dust Company to produce robotic soldiers.
In the Volume 2 Opening, he is seen standing alongside members of the Atlesian military, including soldiers and androids, as well as students of the Atlesian academy and a nervous-looking Penny Polendina. He is also seen at the head of a large formation of Atlesian soldiers and androids in the Volume 3 Opening.
Although Ironwood is a member of Ozpin's inner circle, he takes many actions that his fellow members do not support, such as bringing his large military airfleet to Vale, a move that Ozpin, Glynda Goodwitch and Qrow Branwen deem indiscreet and likely to cause serious fear and concern amongst the populace.
Nonetheless, he is still a valued and loyal member of Ozpin's cadre, and his links to Atlesian research into Aura capture come in especially useful to the group, despite their moral compunctions. His technology is necessary to enact their plan to transfer Amber's power of the Fall Maiden to Pyrrha Nikos, and it is also Atlesian medical equipment that keeps Amber alive.
Ironwood has been shown and stated to be a very good friend of Ozpin, calling him by his nickname "Oz" and taking a familiar mode of speech with him. They speak rather freely to each other, and both can pick up on subtle cues from each other rather easily. However, on their meeting in "Welcome to Beacon", there does appear to be some tension in the air between the two.
In "Field Trip", Ironwood states that he has served Ozpin faithfully for years, showing that they are not on even ground, with Ironwood working under Ozpin's authority within the inner circle.
In the episode "Breach", it is revealed that Ironwood has been sending the Vale Council what they describe as "disturbing" reports about Ozpin's handling of Roman Torchwick's activities with the White Fang. As a consequence, following the Grimm outbreak in Vale, he is made chief of security for the Vytal Festival. Whilst he is conciliatory in conversation with Ozpin, promising to protect their people to the best of his abilities, he later muses to himself that Ozpin brought what might be seen as a humiliation upon himself.
In "It's Brawl in the Family", Ironwood attempts to justify his methods to Ozpin as being necessary to maintain security. However, Ozpin disagrees, stating that these displays of force only breed fear and insecurity in the minds of the people. Ironwood appears to acknowledge, however unwillingly, that Ozpin may be right.
In "PvP", after Cinder Fall's attack, Ironwood attempts to explain Atlas' questionable robotic experiments, but Ozpin ignores this and focuses on the issue at hand, ordering him to employ his army to fend off the Grimm attacking the city.
In "Taking Control", Ironwood is shown to blame the problems Remnant has been suffering since Beacon's fall on Ozpin for 'not listening to him'. Despite the fact that it was the androids that caused a significant amount of damage and Ozpin warned him against bringing them to the Vytal Festival.
In "A New Approach", when he found out Ozpin's recent reincarnation is Oscar, he looks happy to see him, but he felt disheartened when Oscar told him that he's not Ozpin right now and he disappeared.
Glynda and Ironwood seem to have some past history, as he warmly greets her when they meet in "Welcome to Beacon". However, Glynda does not return this joviality, rather sarcastically saying "Oh, James" before promptly leaving Ozpin's quarters. Glynda also appears to disapprove of Ironwood's display of bringing airships to Beacon.
Ironwood is seen inviting Glynda to dance with him at the Beacon Dance. She reluctantly accepts, rolling her eyes when she takes his hand.
In "Mountain Glenn", Glynda consoles Ironwood when he voices his concerns about Ozpin's perceived lack of action. Glynda shows genuine empathy for Ironwood, agreeing that while Ozpin's methods can be difficult to divine, they should still trust him. Glynda also states that he is a "good person" and calls his actions "admirable".
Later, however, in "It's Brawl in the Family", Glynda agrees with Ozpin and Qrow that bringing the Atlesian fleet to Vale was unwise. In "Fall", Glynda also expresses her distaste over the unethical Atlesian Aura experiments that took place under Ironwood's authority, but in light of the Fall Maiden crisis, she acknowledges they may have been necessary.
Qrow and Ironwood are both part of Ozpin's inner circle, however, they do not see eye-to-eye. Qrow perceives Ironwood's appointment to head of security as a betrayal of Ozpin, calling him a sell-out. He also views Ironwood's conspicuous and indiscreet security measures for the Vytal Festival as imprudent and doubts the ability of the Atlesian military to protect the people.
Nevertheless, while Ironwood has issues with Qrow as a person, he has none with his skills as a Huntsman. It was in response to Qrow's warning that Ironwood chose to bring his fleet to Vale.
When mistaking Qrow's activation of his scythe during the Fall of Beacon for Qrow believing that Ironwood had caused the cataclysm, Ironwood attempted to placate Qrow by explaining himself, indicating that despite all of his strength and might as a Huntsman, that even Ironwood fears facing Qrow in a one-on-one fight when the latter uses his weapon of choice.
In "A New Approach", he looks happy to see Qrow again in Atlas. After Penny and the others tour around Atlas Academy, he embraced Qrow in relief.
In "New Approach", when Ironwood first meets Oscar, he finds out that the boy is Ozpin's recent reincarnation. Despite his relief to see Oz, Oscar informs Ironwood that he's not Ozpin right now and he disappeared, much to Ironwood's dismay.
Ironwood seems to be grateful for Ruby for her efforts in the incident at the Cross Continental Transmit Tower, believing her actions to be just and right, as expected of a true Huntress. Ruby herself seems to be appreciative of such comments.
In "Remembrance", Ironwood is shown to be courteous towards the Schnee heiress, apologizing for "overstaying his welcome." Before he departs, the general invites Weiss to join Atlas Academy. When Weiss unintentionally summons a Boarbatusk from her glyphs, Ironwood refuses when a woman demands that she be arrested, arguing that "she's the only one making sense around here".
After Yang apparently attacks Mercury Black unprovoked, Ironwood is seen breaking the news to her and her team that they have been disqualified from the Vytal Festival. He doubts Yang's claim that she struck Mercury in self-defense, instead attributing her actions to stress-induced hallucinations. When Yang continues to protest, he sternly silences her before leaving.
Ironwood personally ordered that a replacement arm be built for Yang after the Battle of Beacon, to be given with the message that she fought admirably and should be proud of herself.
Ironwood is Winter's superior in the Atlesian military. Winter has a great deal of respect for Ironwood, following his orders virtually without question, and defending him from the criticisms of others. Ironwood has a professional relationship with Winter, whom he refers to primarily by her surname Schnee. As his subordinate, she stands at attention when he appears and also salutes him when given orders. Ironwood appears to have a good deal of respect for Winter, as he tells her father Jacques that he considers her one of his best.
Ironwood is firm with Winter when he needs to be, as seen after she embarrasses herself by getting into a fight with Qrow in "It's Brawl in the Family".
In "A New Approach", it is reveals that he told her, Penny, and the Ace-Op the whole situations about Salem and the Maidens.
As one of Ironwood's subordinates, James holds Clover to a high standard based on his long-standing reputation as one of Atlas' greatest Huntsmen, even making him leader of the Ace-Ops unit.
Along with the rest of her comrades, Harriet is trusted to mentor and help train Ruby's group to similar standards as herself and her own comrades.
It is unknown what Ironwood's feelings and professional relationship with Vine is beyond recognizing his talent as being sufficient to join such an elite and illustrious squad as the Ace-Ops.
As one of the most elite groups of Huntsmen and Huntresses in Atlas, Elm must have impressed Ironwood considerably to appoint her to such a position compared to ordinary members of the military.
As the rookie of the Ace-Ops, Marrow is a considerably skilled Huntsman and soldier. However, his inexperience and excitable demeanor are something of a source of both annoyance and embarrassment for the otherwise stoic Atlesian General.
Sleet has a relatively poor working relationship with General Ironwood. Due to James commanding 40% of the council's power for many years, he has managed to overrule and run roughshod over the remaining members of the council for years.
Councilwoman Camilla considers many of James' endeavors to have been murky at best, and finds his use of his power as both General and Headmaster to be somewhat impudent. She dislikes his lack of trust in others outside of his own inner circle.
Schnee Dust Company
Ironwood has known the Schnee patriarch for many years, and has worked with him on several projects, including the development of the Atlesian Knight-200 as well as the Atlesian Paladin-290 units. Though relations between the two men have been strained in light of the Dust embargo imposed upon Atlas by its ruling council. Ironwood also seems to favor Weiss' judgment over that of her father, seeing Jacques as increasingly greedy, and citing that Weiss' outburst was the only bit of sense that he witnessed at the Schnee family fundraiser for the citizens of Vale. Given Ironwood's military background, he seems to respect the warriors of the Schnee family such as Winter and Weiss substantially more than the purely entrepreneurial Jacques.
Ironwood's relationship with Jacques reaches a boiling point when it is revealed by Weiss Schnee that her father had conspired with Arthur Watts to steal the election from Robin Hill, allowing Watts a backdoor into all of Atlas' power and cyber-security systems. He consequently enforces Weiss' arrest of her father and has Jacques escorted into Atlas Military custody from his own home.
Although Ironwood does not know Cinder's identity, much of his recent precautions have been in an attempt to thwart her plans. When Cinder later announces her plans publicly, she proclaims Ironwood a dictator who holds far too much power, an accusation which visibly angers Ironwood.
Cinder's actions and subsequent dismantlement of Ironwood's fleet and army has left the General with substantial Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a powerful fear and hatred of her.
Ironwood took Roman Torchwick into custody following the Grimm attack in "Breach." He imprisons Torchwick on an airship, informing him that he's been given the authority to hold onto him indefinitely. Ironwood attempts to interrogate Torchwick, but is unable to get any pertinent answers. Though the general is not discouraged, confident that there will be plenty of chances to "talk" with the felon.
After Torchwick is broken out by Neopolitan and they commandeer the airship, Ironwood refers to the thief as a "vagabond", though it's unclear if he knows for certain that Torchwick has the ship.
Salem's Inner Circle
As a member of Ozpin's inner circle, Ironwood is aware of Salem's existence and the threat she poses to Remnant. His ultimate plan is to restore global communications and reveal her existence to first Atlas, and then all of Remnant, in order to combat her as a united force.
When Salem manifested through a demolished Seer in Ironwood's office, his terror of her reached a breaking point and provoked him into attempting to loose Atlas into the stratosphere, far from her reach.
James Ironwood has an antagonistic professional history with Dr. Watts. During Watts' time as a military scientist in Atlas, Watts contributed greatly the automated security of the kingdom. However, when the project that gave rise to Penny Polendina was initiated, Arthur soon after faked his death. Ironwood personally considered him "a pain in the ass" and likely took issue with Watts' arrogance regarding his intellect and scientific contributions to the military. Ironwood found Watts to be spoiled, overindulged, and far too enabled by the Atlesian military in his endeavors.
Ironwood was also known to be familiar with Watts' fighting style, able to keep up with his constant manipulation of the arena and knowing of Watts' tendency to count his shots.
Penny is seen standing uneasily with Ironwood's entourage in the Volume 2 Opening. In "Painting the Town...", it is revealed that Ironwood assisted and sponsored Penny's father in her creation. In "It's Brawl in the Family", Penny is seen following Ironwood around. In "Never Miss a Beat", Penny tells her friend Ruby Rose that Ironwood does not want anyone to know that she is a robot. When Penny's robotic nature is exposed in "PvP", he manages to maintain his composure amidst the tragedy. In “A New Approach”, he told Penny, Winter and the Ace-Ops about Salem and the Maidens. In "Cordially Invited", Ironwood defends Penny from Jacques Schnee's accusation against her while he told Jacques that the video about Penny murdering the people in Mantle was doctorerd.
Due to their work in protecting the Maidens, Ironwood and Lionheart are allies, however they are not on the best of terms. Ironwood doubts the Headmaster's ability to handle the current crisis in Mistral. Likewise, Lionheart disapproves of Ironwood's recent actions like his Dust embargo, and how his personality has changed after the Battle of Beacon. Ironwood does not know that Professor Lionheart has been acting as a mole for Salem since before the Fall of Beacon.