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Class Notes

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Colin Luther Powell

As a distinguished soldier-statesman, adviser to three presidents, and nationally respected public servant, Colin Luther Powell has rendered outstanding service to the nation, the United States Army, and his fellow countrymen. In successive positions of increasing responsibility in the national interest, General Powell has exemplified unparalleled devotion to the principles expressed in the motto of the United States Military Academy: "Duty, Honor, Country."

General Powell’s remarkable career began in 1958 as a 2d Lieutenant of Infantry. As a junior officer, he served two tours in Vietnam, where he was twice wounded and cited for valor. In Korea, he assumed command of an infantry battalion of sagging morale and transformed it into a highly trained, combat-ready unit, rated among the best in the division.

As he advanced in rank, his assignments increasingly involved service at the highest levels of government. In 1972, he was designated a White House Fellow, serving in the Office of Management and Budget. In a subsequent Executive Branch assignment, he served as the Senior Military Assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

In 1979, he was chosen to command the 2d Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Promoted to Brigadier General in 1981, he became the Assistant Division Commander, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized). In 1986, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and selected to command the Fifth United States Army Corps in Germany. Six months later, at President Reagan’s personal request, he relinquished his command to join the National Security Council Staff and led its reorganization in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra episode. Later that year, he was appointed Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. In early 1989, General Powell was promoted to General and assumed command of the United States Army Forces Command.

In August 1989, President Bush selected General Powell to become the twelfth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the youngest man and first African-American to hold our nation’s highest military position.

As Chairman, he implemented a national military policy characterized by clarity of mission and the application, when required, of overwhelming combat force. His direction of Operation Just Cause, which ousted the Panamanian dictator, Noriega, was brilliant. His orchestration of Operation Desert Shield, the largest strategic deployment of United States military forces in decades, was masterful. His role as the senior military leader responsible to the President for oversight of Operation Desert Storm, was pivotal to the allied victory.

In 1993, General Powell retired from active military service. Retirement, however, brought no respite from the call of duty. In 1994, President Clinton asked him to join former President Jimmy Carter and Senator Sam Nunn in a presidential mission to Haiti, to persuade its military dictator Cedras, to step down. The mission succeeded, allowing Haiti’s elected leader, President Aristide, to return to power.

Again in 1997, General Powell answered the President’s call, this time to serve as General Chairman of the President’s Summit for America’s Future. Following the Summit, General Powell agreed to chair "America’s Promise - The Alliance for Youth," the ongoing national campaign dedicated to improving the lives of the nation’s more than fifteen million at-risk youth.

General Powell’s numerous US military, civil and foreign awards and decorations certify his lifetime of accomplishment. He is the recipient of NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Award. The AUSA honored him with its premier accolade, the George Catlett Marshall Medal. On two occasions, the President presented him the nation’s highest civilian decoration, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In his autobiography, General Powell writes: "My responsibility, our responsibility as lucky Americans, is to try to give back to this country, as much as it has given to us." General Powell has given back the fullest measure of selfless service. His uncommon devotion to duty epitomizes the finest qualities of the American soldier and clearly reflects the values expressed in the West Point motto. Accordingly, the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy hereby awards the 1998 West Point Sylvanus Thayer Award to Colin Luther Powell.