Powell Begins Celebration of 60th Anniversary of War College
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2005 Former secretary of state and retired four-star Army general Colin Powell helped begin celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National War College -- an institution he graduated from in 1976 -- with a speech to students Sept. 19.
Powell, who rose to be the only person to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of State, told students that the National War College, at Fort Lesley J. McNair here, was where he learned to go beyond the boundaries of his specialty.
Powell said that when he arrived at the National War College in 1975, he was "a pretty fair Army officer." He had served for 17 years and was an Airborne Ranger. He had spent two years in Vietnam and one year as a battalion commander in Korea. He had been an instructor at the Infantry School in Fort Benning, Ga., and had taken every course the Infantry School had to offer. "I was a well-qualified, solid infantryman," he said.
Along the way, Powell had received a master's degree in administration from George Washington University and been a White House Fellow.
Yet, "it was here that I learned more about my profession of arms, not just the Army part, and how that element of national power connects with all elements of national power," he said.
Powell told the students to imagine a pyramid, and said the military profession is that pyramid. "When you start out as a young ensign or lieutenant, you are a little dot inside that pyramid, at the bottom in the furthest corner you can get into," he said.
As a second lieutenant, all an officer has to do is learn how to take care of 40 soldiers and prepare to lead them in battle, he said.
Times passes and officers learn more. The dot grows and begins to move up inside the pyramid. An officer reaches a point where he is stuck inside the pyramid and won't rise unless he comes out of the pyramid. "It's not enough just to be a great infantry officer any longer," Powell said. "It is time to come outside the pyramid and look at all that is out there -- the environment that is out there, the opportunities and risks that are out there.
That's the point where he was when he attended the National War College.
"It is time to come outside that pyramid and understand that role of diplomacy and understand the role of politics. Yes, politics -- nasty, dirty, noisy politics," he said. It is also time to understand the importance of the media, public relations and the flow of information, he added.
While officers extend outside that pyramid they should never lose contact with their roots, he said.
Powell said most of the learning at the college took place in the hallways, the softball fields and in "hanging around with my buddies here -- in the interchange between professionals who are dedicated to the role they played in the national tapestry of security for the nation."
Powell said officials founded the school in 1945 to learn the lessons hard-won on the battlefields of World War II. "So many lessons were learned after World War II about where we were lacking, where we were not educating all of our officers to respect all elements of national power, and not educating diplomats as well."
He said the military was prudent in establishing the school. While the United States and its allies had ended fascism as a threat, no one knew in 1945 what lay on the horizon. They took time during peace to prepare for the unknown, he said.
The class today is challenged by changes unimaginable when Powell graduated. The Iron Curtain -- between the West and the Communist states of Eastern Europe -- is gone; the Bamboo Curtain -- between the West and the Communist states of East Asia -- is gone. U.S. Army forces in their "German Defense Plan" positions are gone. Powell said this is a time of globalization and "Googleization and eBaying" of the world.
Powell told the class that with all the changes and problems associated with change have come "wonderful opportunities and daunting challenges."
He said that when they finish the war college, today's students will look to a future "through a glass darkly," -- a reference to the biblical Paul explaining that people have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality -- but will be up to the challenge of the new environment.