Army STARRS Authors

Gen Colin Powell, A Soldier’s Soldier (1937-2021)

By Patti Stuart, USAFA ‘87
STARRS BOD Member

Inspiring Quotes by Colin Powell:

– Regarding America’s leadership in fighting for freedom for citizens of foreign lands:  “The only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead.”

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

–  “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

– “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.”

– “Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.”

On October 18th, America lost a great statesman and “soldier’s soldier” in the passing of General Colin Powell. Many of his 84 years were spent in service to the country he loved.

Born in Harlem in 1937 and raised in the South Bronx, Powell was the son of Jamaican immigrants. His parents set strong expectations for Powell, but he initially didn’t care much for school, getting only mediocre grades in high school. It was when he enrolled at New York City College and learned about their ROTC program that he found his passion. He excelled in the program–becoming the detachment commander–beginning his superior performance in leadership roles.

While a lieutenant, he was stationed in still segregated Georgia. He noted that the Army treated all soldiers the same, based on rank, but was shocked to see there were still restaurants he could not eat at off base.

In an interview, years later, Gen Powell said his sergeants told him,

“Lt Powell, we don’t care if you’re an immigrant kid or not. We don’t care if you are black, white, blue or yellow. We don’t care where you grew up. We don’t care that you went to a public school and you didn’t go to West Point. The only thing we care about now is: do you perform? Do you do your very, very best? Do you have potential?’

Those words stuck with him for the next 35 years. During those years he was injured in two deployments to Vietnam; and served four presidents. As a three star, he was President Reagan’s National Security Advisor.  He was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, after which he retired from the Army. He then served as the Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.

During his tenure he oversaw many conflicts including the first and second Gulf Wars and the U.S. response to 9/11. Based on his leadership style, a reporter coined the phrase “The Powell Doctrine” to mean using all diplomatic tools possible to avoid conflict, but if military action is needed, a decisive force should be deployed.

His leadership during the First Gulf War helped secure a quick victory and liberate the country of Kuwait from Iraqi forces. Condoleeza Rice, the Secretary of State in 2005, stated in the Washington Post that tributes to Gen Powell need to note “his tireless work as the country’s chief diplomat: strengthening relations with allies at difficult times; ending civil war in Sudan; and leaving the State Department stronger and more efficient that when he arrived.”

Since Gen Powell represented many “firsts” (he was the first African American to fill all the above roles), he was often asked about racial strife. In an address to Howard University students in 1994 he stated

“I want you to fight racism. But remember, as Dr. King and President Mandela have taught us, racism is a disease of the racist. Never let it become yours. Racism is a disease that you can help cure by standing up for your rights, and by your commitment to excellence and to performance. By being ready to take advantage of your rights and the opportunities that will come from those rights…And as you seek your way in the world, never fail to find a way to serve your community. Use your education and your success in life to help those still trapped in cycles of poverty and violence. Above all, never lose faith in America. Its faults are yours to fix, not curse.”

General Powell and his wife Alma embraced that philosophy and dedicated decades to helping the poor and marginalized. They worked on many endeavors, including America’s Promise–a public and private partnership to provide opportunities and support to young people–focusing on promises for mentorship, safety, education and healthcare.

Gen Powell also devoted his efforts to guiding the creation of the New York City College, Colin Powell School for Civil and Global Leadership. He did so hoping to provide opportunities to others coming from similar backgrounds as his. He never forgot that the opportunities ROTC and the Army provided him let him fulfill the expectations his parents had set.

Our country will miss his optimism and leadership.

Leave a Comment