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GENERAL COLIN POWELL

Colin Powell Colin Powell

General Colin Powell is arguably one of the most respected and accomplished Americans in U.S. history(black or white). He is the only living black person who by most accounts still has a realistic shot of capturing the U.S. Presidency, regardless of his political party affiliation. He is the youngest man ever (black or white) to ascend to the position of Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, the primary military advisor to the President. He also comes in as the first black Joint Chiefs of Staff(JCS) in the U.S. He is strongly revered around the world but especially so by his black community for being a stand-up leader and role model.

Colin Luther Powell was born on April 5th 1937 in the U.S. city of Harlem, New York to Luther Theophilus Powell and Maud Ariel McKoy. Both his parents were Jamaican immigrants who had settled in Harlem, New York, already home to some 150,000 Jamaican immigrants. Powell was the 2nd born and had a sister Marilyn who had been born in 1931. Both his parents worked in the New York garments district and all indications are that they were a lower middle-class family. Soon after Colin Powell's birth, the family moved from Harlem to Hunts Point in South Bronx, New York. This was a racially mixed neighbourhood housing Jewish, Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican, black and other communities. In fact Powell once quipped about his old neighbourhood saying, "everyone was a minority."

Powell attended Public School 39 located at Kelly and Longwood streets. Unlike his elder sister Marilyn who blossomed in school, Powell struggled and at 4th grade, he was towards the bottom of the class. In 1949 he moved on to Junior High School 52, an all-boys school just a few blocks from his house. In September 1950, he entered Morris High School where he took college preparatory courses. He also participated in track. In June 1954, he graduated from Morris High School. At this time his elder sister had already graduated from Buffalo State College so he knew all the parental pressure would fall on "little brother", who from his own adimission, had not been too keen to pursue college education. As a matter of fact, it was because his parents pushed him that he went to college. Later in life however, he would thank them profusely for pushing him in that direction. His mother particularly encouraged him to study engineering. So after his High School graduation in 1954, the young Powell enrolled at City College of New York(CCNY) to study engineering.

Not long into the course he realized that this was not his calling so he switched majors to Geology. Geology also turned out not to be his kind of thing, but he stuck with it anyway. One thing however caught his eyes at CCNY, something he finally felt a passion for--The Army Reserve Officers Training Corps(ROTC). He was particularly drawn by the Pershing Rifles, a military society that acted as a drill team. He immediately signed up with ROTC and became a member of Pershing Rifles society. Ronald Brooks, a black cadet leader in the ROTC and an officer in the Pershing Rifles took the young Powell under his wings. Brooks was two years older than Powell. Powell saw in Brooks all the qualities he admired in elders but found lacking in him. He later said about Ronnie Brooks, "I had found a model and a mentor. I set out to remake myself in the Ronnie Brooks mold." The comradry he experienced as a member of the Pershing Rifles was new to him. Cadets from different races and financial backgrounds all drilled together, partied together, but most importantly, stood up for one another as brothers. During his Junior year at CCNY he entered the ROTC advanced program.

In June 1958 Powell graduated from CCNY with a B.Sc. Degree in Geology. He never excelled in his studies, managing a paltry C grade in most of his courses. Whereas he was not the best Geology student at CCNY, he certainly was the best at the ROTC, managing straight A's in his courses. He was named the Distinguished Military Graduate of his group. As an ROTC graduate, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve. Because he was a Distinguished Military Graduate, he had to be a reserve officer for only one month. Therefore by the end of June 1958, he became a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He was then sent to Fort Benning Georgia for military training. Fort Benning was the home of the Infantry School and a training ground for Infantry and Airborne troops. Fort Benning was a whole new world to Powell, who was not used to the racial segregation in the south. Here there were clear cut lines as to where he could or could not go unlike in his native New York where racism also existed but covertly. This was also the first time he was living away from his parents.

His first military tour of duty came in 1959 when he was sent to Fulda Gap, West Germany, a military outpost less than 50 miles from the East German border. This was at the height of the Cold War between the U.S and the Soviets. At Fulda Gap he became Platoon leader of about 40 men. His duty at Fulda Gap was to help man the outpost because in case of hostilities between the U.S. and the Soviets, this was where the Soviet troops might have flooded through on their way into Central Europe. In December 1959 he was promoted to First Lieutenant and in November the following year his German tour of duty ended. Back in the U.S. First Lieutenant Powell was sent to Fort Devens Massachussetts with the Fifth Infantry Division. The Fifth Infantry was a mechanized unit, meaning its troops move from place to place in the battle area in their own vehicles.

It was while in Massachussetts that he met Alma Johnson, a young woman from Birmingham, Alabama, who was pursuing Graduate studies in Boston. Powell met Alma on a blind date arranged by Alma's college room mate. In June 1962, Powell was promoted to Captain. The next month, he received orders to go to Vietnam. This was quite a big deal to both his and Alma's family because unlike Fulda Gap that had just been a military outpost, he was looking at real combat in Vietnam and all the dangers it presented. Powell broke it all down to his and Alma's family, promising Alma that he would write faithfully while in Vietnam. But he was shocked when Alma told him plainly that she would not write him any letters. As far as she was concerned, they were either getting married before he departed for military duty or going separate ways henceforth. So on the Saturday of August 25th 1962, Captain Colin Powell and Alma Johnson got married in Birmingham, Alabama. The couple spent saturday night together and on Sunday Powell was back in Boston, ready to resume military duty on Monday.

In December 1962 Powell shipped to Vietnam for his first tour of duty in that country. He had left Alma pregnant with their first child Michael, who was born on March 23rd 1963 while he was still in Vietnam. Vietnam had been divided in 1954 into communist North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam. However by 1958 communist guerrillas from the south(Viet Cong) were attempting to overthrow the government and make it communist too. This is what sucked the U.S. into the Vietnam war.

Powell in Vietnam was fighting two fights. As the war raged in Vietnam, the civil rights struggle was raging back in the U.S., and especially so in his wife's hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, where protests led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had become a routine occurence. Powell was always fearful of what might happen to his wife and infant son back home. His plight was shared by many other African-Americans in the military who often found themselves confused as to what exactly they were fighting for. Powell however stayed focussed and concentrated on what he came there to do--defeat the Viet Cong. God would take care of his family back home. In November 1963 his Vietnam tour of duty was over and he was on his way back to the States. However the month in which he first met with his son face to face happened to be one of the saddest months in U.S. political history. That was the month when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. So while Powell was happy to be re-united with his family, he was obviously saddened by the slaying of his Commander in Chief.

After his return from Vietnam he was again sent to Fort Benning Georgia, this time to attend the Infantry Officers Advanced Course. In 1964, the Powells settled in Phenix City, Alabama, in a little brick house some 10 miles from Fort Benning. This was the first home they shared as a family and it was quite a joyous experience. On April 16th 1965 their second child Linda was born and in February the following year Powell was made an Infantry School instructor. He was in charge of teaching the men who would lead troops into battle. This was a very prestigious job and one quite hard to find. It made his resume all the more impressive. In May 1966, then 29 years old, he was promoted to Major and chosen to attend the Army's Command & General Staff College(CGSC) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Out of some 1244 officers at Fort Leavenworth, most of them older than him, he ranked 2nd.

In June 1968 Powell was sent on his 2nd tour of duty in Vietnam. This time he went there as a Battallion Executive Officer, whose job is to make sure that his Battallion has enough supplies---ammunition, fuel, mail etc. His unit was deployed at Chu Lai in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. However when General Charles Gettys, head of Powell's division read from the Army Times that Powell had graduated 2nd from Fort Leavenworth, he thought he might use him at a much higher capacity. As Commander of the Division, General Gettys was allowed 5 Staff Officers under him, one Officer per each of the following departments; Personell, Intelligence, Operations & Planning, Logistics, and civil affairs. Operations & Planning is by far the most desirable post, ands thats exactly what General Gettys gave Major Powell. Powell later returned the favour to General Gettys by pulling him out of the wreckage after they had been involved in a helicopter crash in Vietnam.

In February 1969, Major Powell was finished with his second tour of duty in Vietnam and was on his way back to the States. The Army sent him to George Washington University in Washington, DC, to study for a Masters of Business Administration(MBA) because they wanted him to acquire computer skills so he could work at the Pentagon installing computer systems. Major Powell thus moved his family to Dale City, Virginia, a Washington suburb where he had bought a 5-bedroom house. Although he already lived once before with his family in Phenix, Alabama, this was the first time he was actually doing so in a civilian capacity. Washington, DC was also the world's political capital so new career doors were bound to open for him, given his stellar military resume.

In 1970 he was not only blessed with a third child Anne Marie Powell, but got a promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel. He earned his Masters Degree in 1972, this time with excellent grades. The military must have done something to him because this was in stark contrast to his college days at CCNY where he struggled just to get a passing grade. In 1972 he applied for and landed a White House Fellowship. White House Fellowship recipients dont necessarily work at the White House but they are given an excellent opportunity to learn first-hand the inner workings of the executive branch of the federal government. The Fellowships are excellent opportunities for individuals aspiring to serve in high-level, decision-making jobs in the executive branch of the federal government. As a White House Fellow, Powell was sent to the White House Office of Management & Budget(OMB) for his year of service. The OMB creates the annual federal budget, and its head at that time was Caspar Weinberger. Mr Weinberger took to Lieutenant-Colonel Powell right from the start.

At the OMB, Lieutenant-Colonel Powell learnt to reconcile budget numbers, public relations and handling the media, skills which would become quite handy in his future endeavours. In 1973 he was sent on a tour of duty to Korea as a Battallion Commander. This turned out to be quite a difficult assignment for him because he arrived to a low-morale unit, infested with drug abuse and racial hostility. He immediately realized that to turn this unit into an effective fighting force, he would have to rely more on his public relations skills than his best military knowledge. He used his excellent people skills to energize his unit and reports have it that by the Fall of 1974 when his Korean tour of duty ended, he left behind a mighty fine force. He returned to the U.S. in November 1974 and began preparations to attend the National War College in Fall 1975. Just 2 months before completing his course at the National War College, he was promoted to Colonel.

After graduation from the National War College he was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade. He returned to Washinton, DC in 1979 and was promoted to Brigadier General. In June 1981 he was sent to Fort Carson, Colorado as Assistant Commander of the 4th Mechanized Infantry Division. In 1982 he was sent back to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At Fort Leavenworth, he helped create a long-overdue historical monument for the 9th & 10th U.S. Cavalries. These were two units of African-American soldiers on horseback formed at Leavenworth and Greenville, Louisiana back in the 1860's. They were dubbed the Buffalo Soldiers by the native Indians for their courage and fighting spirit. The Buffalo Soldiers had been used to fight the native Indians and open up the western frontier for white settlement. They were active up until the early 1900's.

In July 1983, Brigadier General Colin Powell returned to Washington, DC where he got promoted to Major General. He was to serve as Military Assistant to his old buddy and former OMB boss Caspar Weinberger, who was now Defense Secretary in U.S. President Ronald Reagan's administration. In 1986, he was called for military duty again. He was sent on his second tour of duty in Germany and given command of V Corps stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. You will recall that Germany was where his military career had begun, commanding some 40 troops. This time around he was in charge of 72,000 troops. During this period he was promoted to Lieutenant-General(3 silver stars as opposed to Major General's 2). His German assignment ended in January 1987, when he was asked to come back to Washington, DC to take up a job as the Deputy National Security Advisor. The head of the National Security Council(NSC) at that time was Frank Carlucci. In November 1987 when Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger resigned and was replaced by Frank Carlucci, Lieutenant-General Colin Powell ascended to the much-coveted National Security Advisor(NSA) position. This is a very powerful position in America and indeed the whole world because it is the NSA who briefs the President daily on security and intelligence matters. This is a very "inner-circle" job in any administration, and yeah--he was the first African-American NSA.

In 1989 he was promoted to a full General(4 silver stars) and also became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(JCS), another first for an African- American. Plus at 52 years old, he became the youngest ever JCS Chair. As JCS Chair, he was the primary military advisor to the President, in this case, President George Herbert Walker Bush. These were very key positions Powell was appointed to, but people miss their actual significance. For the first time an African-American had broken into the inner-circles of American power, hitherto presided over entirely by white males. I mean this guy was right up there with the real movers and shakers of American policy. He was actually affecting the direction the country was going---real power!!! That same year on December 20th, General Colin Powell was called upon to manage Operation Just Cause in Panama, that saw the toppling and eventual capture of Panamaian dictator Manuel Noriega.

On August 8th 1990, his services were again sought, this time to manage Operation Desert Shield that was intended to protect Saudi Arabia from threats of an attack by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and there was increasing fear by the Americans and the Saudis that he might extend his aggression to Saudi Arabia. By October 30th 1990, U.S. and coalition forces had secured Saudi Arabia, shifting the focus towards the removal of Saddam from Kuwait. General Powell was again asked to manage this new operation called Operation Desert Storm. The operation drove Saddam out of Kuwait and was hailed as a major military success eventhough Powell later got blamed for not going all the way into Baghdad and removing the notorious dictator from power. According to him, and I fully concur, the plan was to get Saddam out of Kuwait, not to overthrow his government.

In 1991 he was appointed to a second term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His second term ran out on September 30th 1993, under President Bill Clinton, after which he retired from the military altogether, bringing to an end one of the most illustrious military careers in modern U.S history. His services however continued to be sought in Washington, DC for example when he was named part of an American delegation in 1994, alongside former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to help restore the elected government in neighbouring Haiti. In Haiti, the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been driven out of office in a military coup led by General Raoul Cedras. General Powell's soldier-to-soldier advice to Cedras?---dont even waste your time trying to resist the U.S. military.

General Powell's first autobiography, My American Journey was published in 1995 to rave reviews. In 1996 the General caused a stir in American political circles when it was rumoured that he might run for the Presidency. Citing concerns about his family's security, he decided not to run. He currently serves in President George W. Bush's administration as Secretary of State(another first for an Afro-American) and many people, myself included, have not closed the window yet on chances of him running for President. However I think a lot of people would agree with me when I say his current gig as Secretary of State is one he could have done without--if you know what I mean!!

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