From the American Revolution to the Spanish-American War

Why is General Colin Powell important in military history?

Colin L. Powell (1937–) became the first black National Security Advisor in 1987. Born in Harlem in New York City to Jamaican immigrants, Powell received his bachelor’s degree from City College of New York in 1958 and his master’s in business administration from George Washington University in 1971. He graduated from the National War College in 1976. Powell joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps while at City College and was commissioned as a second lieutenant when he graduated. He made his best grades in the ROTC courses and graduated as a Distinguished Military Student. His first assignment after basic training was in Germany, where he was made a first lieutenant. An assignment to Boston completed his ROTC-required three years of military service in 1961, but he chose to remain active in the military. Powell was trained as a military advisor in 1962 and saw his first tour of war duty in Vietnam. An injury there resulted in his being given first the Purple Heart and later the Bronze Star. He was assigned to the Pentagon in 1971, after another tour of duty in Vietnam. Powell was sent to South Korea in 1973. By 1976 he was a full colonel. In 1979 Powell was promoted to brigadier general and worked for a brief time as an assistant to the Department of Energy. For the 1980 presidential election, he switched his political allegiance from the Democratic to the Republican Party. He was offered an administrative position with the army after the election, but chose to return to more traditional army duty, as he had done many times previously when similar opportunities were presented to him. Between 1983 and 1986 Powell rose from major general to three-star general. As such, he commanded the Fifth Corps in Frankfort, Germany. He was back in the United States serving as assistant national security advisor when President Ronald Reagan named him national security advisor. Just short of a year later, he became the first national security advisor to be given the Secretary’s Award, for distinguished contributions.


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