Colin Powell – America’s Soldier-Statesman

Colin Luther Powell was born in the Harlem district of New York City on April 5, 1937. Colin’s parents were Jamaican immigrants who stressed the importance of education and personal achievement. At the age of three, before Colin could establish any prejudices against other ethnic groups, his family moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx. The Bronx was a multicultural district. He grew up having no concept of being a different color than a white person or a Jewish person or a person of European descent or an Arab. A world filled with people of many colors was normal to him. Colin graduated from Morris High School and enrolled in City College of New York to study geology.

While attending City College of New York Colin, by his own account, found his calling. He joined the Reserves Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He became commander of his unit’s precision drill team and graduated in 1958 at the top of his ROTC class, with the rank of cadet colonel, the highest rank in the corps.

Colin Powell was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army when he enrolled in the Infantry Officer’s Basic Training following graduation. His commanding officers told him that it would take twenty years to become a Lieutenant Colonel. Colin worked hard and got there in sixteen years. He wanted to prove that the people of the world could do anything and that they had no limitations because of who they are.

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work” – Colin Powell

In 1962 Colin married Alma Johnson. Together they have a son, Michael, and two daughters, Linda and Annemarie. That same year Second Lieutenant Colin Powell was one of the 16,000 military advisors sent to South Vietnam by President Kennedy. In 1963 he was wounded by a punji-stick booby trap while patrolling the Vietnamese border with Laos. He was awarded the Purple Heart and, later that year, the Bronze Star. Colin served a second tour of duty in Vietnam and was injured in a helicopter crash. Despite his own injuries, he rescued his own fellow soldiers from the burning chopper and was awarded the Soldier’s Medal. In all, he has received 11 military decorations, including the Legion of Merit.

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership” – Colin Powell

Colin Powell enrolled at George Washington University in Washington, DC in 1969. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1970 and earned his Master of Business Degree in 1971. Powell was promoted to Major and won a White House Fellowship. He was assigned to the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon Administration. As a Colonel, Powell served as a battalion commander in Korea and had a staff job at the Pentagon. He studied at the Army War College, was promoted to Brigadier General, and commanded a Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. In the Carter Administration Powell was an assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense and to the Secretary of Energy. He was promoted to Major General and served again in the Defense Department during the transition to the Reagan Administration.

In 1986, Powell left Washington to serve as commander of the Fifth Corps in Germany. A year later he was back in Washington as a General and became the Assistant to the President for National Affairs advising President Reagan during summit meetings with Soviet President Gorbachev. He was the first African American to serve in this position, as he has been in every office he has held since.

In 1989 Powell was promoted to Four Star General and named Commander in Chief of the U.S. Forces Command at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bus, General Powell became a national figure during the successful Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations. He continued as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the first months of President Clinton’s administration and retired from the military shortly thereafter.

In 2001, newly elected President George W. Bush appointed General Powell to be Secretary of State. Secretary Powell won praise for his efficient administration of the State Department and cordial relations with other governments. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Secretary Powell took a leading role in rallying America’s allies for military action in Afghanistan. Shortly after President G.W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Secretary Powell stepped down as Secretary of State.

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” – Colin Powell

Jody Victor