Colin Powell’s leadership serves as inspiration

Published 3:45 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Colin Powell was the first African American appointed as the U.S. Secretary of State and the first to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Colin Luther Powell was a United States statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army.

Born Colin Luther Powell on April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York, Powell was the son of Jamaican immigrants Luther and Maud Powell. He was raised in the South Bronx and educated in the New York City public schools. It was at City College of New York, where Powell found his calling — in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). He soon became commander of his unit. This experience set him on a military career and gave him structure and direction in his life.

After graduation in 1958, Powell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. While stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Colin Powell met Alma Vivian Johnson of Birmingham, Alabama, and they married in 1962. The couple has three children: son Michael, and daughters Linda and Annemarie.

In 1962, Powell was one of 16,000 advisers sent to South Vietnam by President John F. Kennedy. In 1963, Powell was wounded by a punji-stick booby trap while patrolling the Vietnamese-Laotian border. During this first tour of duty, he was awarded a Purple Heart and, a year later, a Bronze Star.

While on his second Vietnam tour of duty from 1968 to 1969, then Major Powell was given the assignment of investigating the My Lai massacre. In this incident, more than three hundred civilians were killed by U.S. Army forces. Powell’s report refuted the allegations of wrongdoing and stated, “Relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” Later, Powell was injured in a helicopter crash. Despite his injury, he managed to rescue his comrades from the burning helicopter, for which he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal. In all, Powell has received eleven military decorations, including the Legion of Merit.

Powell earned an MBA at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and was awarded a White House fellowship in 1972. Colonel Powell served a tour of duty in Korea in 1973 as a battalion commander and after that, he obtained a staff job at the Pentagon. He attended the National War College in Washington, D.C. from 1975-1976 and was promoted to brigadier general in 1976 and commanded the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.

In 1987, Powell became a national security adviser, a post he held for the duration of the Reagan administration. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed General Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The post is the highest military position in the Department of Defense. General Powell became a national figure during Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations in Iraq. As chief military strategist, he developed what became known as the “Powell Doctrine,” an approach to military conflicts that advocates using overwhelming force to maximize success and minimize casualties. He continued as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the first few months of the Clinton administration. 

Powell retired from the Army in 1993. In 1994, he joined Senator Sam Nunn and former President Carter on a last-minute peacekeeping expedition to Haiti, which resulted in the end of military rule and a peaceful return to elected government in that country.

In 2000, President George W. Bush appointed Powell secretary of state, and Powell was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. During his tenure, Powell came under fire for his role in building the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Initially, Powell had serious misgivings about President Bush’s plan to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Powell believed the policy of containment was sufficient to control the Iraqi regime. He warned Bush that a military invasion would consume the president’s first term and that if an attack were to occur, it should use overwhelming force and have broad international support. This support would be key to the rebuilding of Iraq.

Bush decided to go to war, and, in a crucial moment, Powell agreed to support the president. To advance the case for war with the international community, Powell appeared before the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 to present evidence that Iraq had concealed an ongoing weapons development program. Powell’s reputation for integrity helped convince many in Congress and the country that Iraq posed an imminent threat. In September 2004, Powell testified before Congress that the intelligence sources he used in his February presentation to the United Nations were “wrong” and it was unlikely that Saddam had any stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Powell advised the committee of the necessity to reform the intelligence community to improve its gathering and analysis. In 2004, after acknowledging it was unlikely that Iraq possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, Powell announced his resignation as secretary of state. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was his successor.

After his retirement, Powell remained vocal on political topics, openly criticizing the Bush administration on several issues. In September 2006, Powell joined moderate Senate Republicans in supporting more rights and better treatment for detainees at the Guantanamo detention facility. In October 2008, Powell made headlines again when he announced his endorsement of Barack Obama for president.

Powell spent much of his life inspiring many with his leadership skills and life experiences. Along with his wife, Powell began America’s Promise Alliance, as part of their dedication to the wellbeing of children and youth of all socioeconomic levels and their commitment to seeing that young people receive the resources necessary to succeed.

Secretary Powell died of complications from COVID-19 on October 18, 2021. He was 84 years old. Credit Biography.com. 

Gene Hays is a retired Marine, author, and historian with several books available on Amazon.com.