The Military man of the Hour

by Elizabeth Singleton

More than 400,000 American soldiers are in the Saudi Arabian Gulf at this time. Morale among the troops was reported high, the climate in the Middle East is violent, and American emotions mixed about continued U.S. presence to police the region indefinitely. Some have voiced thier opposition to the war stating “We are 15% of the total population, 30% of the Army and yet president Bush vetoed the 1990 Civil Rights Bill. We have a war right here” President Bush is meeting daily with numerous cabinet members, top military officials, and influential world leaders concerning the United States use of force, and other alternative military options to ease tensions in this escalating conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. Among the President’s Key Advisors stands General Colin L. Powell, the youngest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first African American ever to hold the nation’s highest military post.

On August 3rd at an early morning White House meeting, according to administration insiders Chairman Powell presented the situation so as to leave few choices for President Bush, other than force. Kuwait had been invaded. Being a great power, the United States had to respond decisively. Thus the planning of Desert Shield was shaped.

General Powell has left his legacy upon the military landscape of this nation. From Harlem to the Joint Chiefs of Staff no military officer has ever travelled farther.

General Powell has left his legacy upon the military landscape of this nation. From Harlem to the Reagan Administration’s National Security Advisor, no military officer has ever travelled farther. Born Colin Luther Powell, during the depression, in Harlem, Powell was nurtured in a close-knit loving family. His parents, Jamaican immigrants, labored in Manhattans’ Garment district, while young Powell grew wise beyond his years. Growing up in the impoverished South Bronx could not have been easy, and Colin was always thinking and planning ahead. Both his parents emphasized getting a good education and demanded that their son make something of his life.

 Like many young students, in the beginning Powell was not very serious about school, and confessed that his grades were not very good. However, while attending City College of New York, he enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC), and it was there that he realized his life’s career. He enjoyed the stern discipline and his skills which surfaced during training, were excellent. He did so well that he graduated “Cadet Colonel” in 1958, the highest rank. Commissioned Second Lieutenant in the army, Powell then went to West Germany.

In 1960, Powell returned to duty at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. In 1962, Powell was sent to Vietnam, where in 1963 he led a combat unit near the Northern Vietnamese border. In 1963, Powell was reassigned to Fort Benning, Georgia. There he signed up for advanced study at the Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Levenworth, Kansas. Midway through his training he requested to attend graduate school. He was told by the Officer in Charge, that his college record was not good enough. Angry Powell, tightened up and finished second in his class of 1,244 students. However, Powell was sent back to Vietnam instead of graduate school. 

When Powell’s division Commander read a story published by the Army Times, about the top five graduating students at Leavenworth, he was furious that Powell was in the trenches, and demanded that he be brought on his staff. Major Powell was then named Operations Chief, and soon established a reputation for courage. He went on several missions where he rescued trapped GI’s from smoldering fires and other hazardous life threatening situations. For his bravery Powell received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, and has accumulated fifteen major decorations during his career. And what a career it has been. It has spanned 32 years and has included the command of 72,000 troops in Germany and more than a million on the U.S. mainland. As one of his colleagues stated he understands the uses and limitations of military power and he recognizes the merits of negotiations and negotiable solutions, but he will fight if he has to fight.

In 1969, Powell finally fulfilled his desire to go to graduate school. He attended George Washington University where he earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration. In 1972, Powell, then working as an analyst in the Pentagon was contacted about a position as a “White House Fellow”, an elite group of special assistants. The White House Fellows afforded Powell the opportunity to work with important government officials such as Casper Weinberger, then Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Weinberger’s Deputy, Frank Carlucci.
After only one year Powell was assigned to Korea because of growing tensions between black and white troops which exploded into race riots. In September of 1973, Powell headed the 1st Battalion of the 32nd Infantry. Within a few months the black and white troops were training and socializing together.

It was during the Carter Administration that Powell held top advisory posts in the Pentagon and the Department of Energy, where he was promoted to Brigadier General. In 1981, during the Reagan Administration, Powell rejoined both Weinberger who became Secretary of Defense and Weinberger’s Deputy, Carlucci. From June 1983 to June 1986, Powell served as Weinberger’s military assistant, where he was exposed to events that later fueled the Iran-Contra Scandal. In 1985, Powell opposed the President’s National Security Council staff’s decision to make TOW missiles available to Iran to encourage the release of American Hostages. He later won the respect of his Capitol Hill colleagues because he wrote National Security Advisor, John M. Poindexter, reminding him of the legal protocol to inform Congress of the transfer of arms.

Throughout his 32-year career, Powell has mastered the art of Diplomacy and the military strategy of force. His skill has earned four stars, which makes him one of the nation’s 36 Four-star generals and 121 three-star generals and admirals who have risen through the ranks. Now Powell’s military prowess is being challenged on middle eastern soil. Having responded brilliantly to the invasion of Kuwait, two things are at stake now. How to win and how to exit. For now military action is being put on the back burner until economic sanctions have had a chance to take affect. Restoring stability in the Gulf could mean an indefinite stay, and in the midst of a forging new world order solutions from U.S. leadership must reflect a sensitivity and understanding of the balance and control of international power.

Reflecting on Powell’s military career would not be complete without mentioning his wife, Alma, of 27 years and his three children. They met on a blind date in 1960, two years later they were married. His son Michael, 27, whose Army service was shortened by a serious accident in Germany in 1987, attended Georgetown Law School. His daughter, Linda appeared in an updated version of “As You Like It.” His other daughter, Anne Marie attended the College of William and Mary. Even though Powell averaged twelve hour work days, he never sacrificed his family for his career. His daughter Linda says of her father, “we never felt that his work was more important than we were.”

Now the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers depend greatly on the military seasoning and wisdom of General Powell to direct them through and out of the Saudi Arabian Gulf, and those who know him best can think of no better person for the position. As we approach the 21st century, we in this country can internalize the ideals spoken of in the closing remarks made by General Powell when he addressed the National Press Club in October, 1988.

“Finally, there is the interconnection between, freedom, progress and peace itself…A Decade or so ago, some pessimists used to dismiss the philosophy of democracy as a culture-bound luxury of the industrialized nations; doomed forever to minority status in the world. Today it turns out to be a vibrant force—from El Salvador to the Philippines, from Botswana to the Republic of Korea. This is vindication in the values that all of us hold so dear. The West can be proud of what it has achieved and the promise that its future holds…America has contributed to this resurgence of the West and, in turn draws strength from it…This country, for all its unfinished business, remains the beacon of hope and aspiration for all those in the world who aspire to enjoy these blessings, and who struggle for them. We must never let that beacon fail.”



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