Book Report on Colin Powell’s My American Journey
Retired General Colin Powell is the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spent a career in the United States Army lasting 35 years. He retired at the rank of four star general. He started his military education and career at the City College of New York in 1954. He was the son of Luther and Arie Powell of New York, born on the 5th of April 1937. His parents were meager people and he lived in a rented apartment until the age of 4 when he moved to the South Bronx where he finished his lower education and received his high school diploma. Upon graduating high school he applied to two universities, New York University (NYU) and the City College of New York (CCNY). He was accepted to both of the colleges but due to a price difference, NYU was $750 and CCNY was $10 a Year, he enrolled in CCNY. He was commissioned out of the CCNY ROTC program 4 years later and entered the army in June of 1958. After the officer’s basic course and various other military courses he received his first duty station as a platoon leader in the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany. From here began what came to be a most illustrious military career, consisting of a command track from platoon level to the commander of FORSCOM with numerous White House positions. He retired from his last command, the Army’s highest-ranking Military Officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was also asked by many of his supporters to run for the office of President, which he declined.
The City College of New York ROTC
The book contained information on Colin Powell that proved more interesting as the page number increased. Some of the events of his life were more interesting than other parts. How his Army career started as a ROTC cadet and not an academy student was surprising to find out. General Powell was also able to serve two tours of Duty in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Racism also played a significant role in the career of this acclaimed Army general. The entire book is complete with many different scenarios with many of his different leadership, but these points provided a base for his career.
At CCNY Colin Powell would get his first glimpse of the United States Army. He started his college education majoring in engineering and ended changing it to geology the second semester. He decided after an engineering class that engineering was not for him and needed to find something more suitable to his academic appetite. His parents and relatives were appalled by this decision because the job prospects for geologists weren’t such a great aspect for a young black college graduate. He had found information on ROTC and decided to give the program a chance. Here he found his place in life and decided that he would receive the Army commission and become a lieutenant upon graduation. This also satisfied the worried family members because this job promised a pension after 20 years of service.
While in ROTC he was asked to join a number of military clubs and fraternities. He accepted the invitation from the ?Pershing Rifles.? At this time this was the most elite of the military groups and had the most closeness between members. The ROTC program at CCNY consisted of fourteen hundred cadets and competition for the top positions was tight. It was in ROTC where Colin Powell experienced his first run in with racism in the military. He was chosen the best cadet of Company D and then from there went up for the best cadet of the entire program. He was able to take a secure second place in this competition. It was at this time one of the cadre came to him and told him that he knew why he did not get the first position. He told him that the reason was because the rest of the cadre did not want to admit that the best cadet at CCNY was a Negro. It didn’t quite strike home upon hearing the statement, Colin had said that it shouldn’t be a race situation and why couldn’t this cadre just accept that the other cadet was better than he was. The situation was puzzling but he had a few more experiences with this type attitude from other cadre at different training sites and he was able to realize the reality of racism. One in particular was training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Upon completion of his basic cadet course he was driven back by two white NCO’s. They had to make a stop to use the restroom on the way and Colin noticed the restroom signs. They were written on three separate doors as follows: ? Men, Women, and Negroes.? Situations such as these did not exist as much on the bases with many soldiers as it did in situations with just a few. He continued his ROTC education and graduated in May of 1958. He received the branch of Infantry Officer and went on to graduate from Airborne and Ranger School at Fort Benning Georgia.
Colin had completed his first two duty stations in West Germany and at Ft. Devens. From these duty stations, where he was able to hold two company command positions at the rank of lieutenant, he was promoted to Captain and then transferred to Vietnam for his first tour in the War. He was stationed with a battalion of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to be an advisor to the Vietnamese leadership. He would spend a year stationed away from his newly wed wife in a primitive type forest environment surround by people that did not talk much English. So this time was one of loneliness for Colin. Here he would become seasoned under fire with the Vietnamese Army. In the book he was able to describe many of the feelings that our soldiers are presented with during wartime. The main focus was on how the leadership of the soldiers actually moved affected the unit in actual battle. Here he was able to work with three different Vietnamese battalion commanders. The first proved the most competent and it showed in the troops whenever there was an engagement with the enemy. How well the troops assembled and were able to overcome the enemy. The second commander was less in control and seemed more of a garrison type officer than a field leader. He did not hold the pose of the first and did not quite fill the shoes left to him either. The battalion showed of low morale and almost as if they had been just as new as the leader. Colin was able to gain control and trust of the unit and make many decisions for the battalion commander. The commander had proved to be more of a burden to the unit than an important addition as the leader of the unit should be. Time passed and the commander was wounded and had to be evacuated to a nearby base and was replaced by a more competent leader who was able to make decisions that were helpful towards the success of the unit. Colin Powell did not fully agree with American forces in Vietnam, but was able to carry out his missions to the full extent and follow the orders of the officer’s appointed above him. The lessons he learned of good leadership and hardship of warfare he took with him to each and everyone one of his following commands.
Colin Powell had his ordeals with Racism in the United States Army, but most were able to be overcome or corrected. He also stated in his book that the Army Forts also served as more of a refuge to a more racist civilian society outside the posts. One instance of racism in the army happened while he was stationed in Korea at Camp Casey. Colin Powell was a new Lieutenant Colonel in a Battalion Commander position. It seemed that when the soldiers would have off duty time they would go to a nearby village and drink and go to bars and such. What started the racist line to be drawn was the type of music played at the bars. The black soldiers preferred more soul or jazz type music and the white soldiers preferred Cowboy and Country Western type and it started many a brawl in the oriental bars. The bar owners decided to split the music 3 soul and jazz songs to every 7 country western songs. This also turned out in turmoil because the black soldiers would be mad for %70 of the time and the white soldiers would be mad for %10 of the time. So this led to more racial segregation. There finally came to a point where the village was actually divided in half for the two groups. The groups actually thought they owned each half and would beat anyone from the other group for crossing the line. The margin would be called the ?Crack.? The Commanding General received word of this debauchle and decided that something had to be done and he called all of his commanders in and said that each commander would to both sides of the crack and have a good time and anyone caught harassing or threatening would be sent to the Army Brig on base. He had a company of Military Police attached and an immediate response force ready and waiting at the base. Needless to say the crack eventually faded away. The commander had made the statement that any racism was prohibited on Camp Casey and any violators would be dealt with strictly to the extent of the punishment. A number of other activities were created to increase morale among the troops and the racial problem all but faded on Camp Casey.
With all the increased pressure on racial accusations some of the white officers and noncoms had problems with giving discipline to black soldiers. Colin did not let any of this bother him or any of his subordinates. He stated that if the soldier is doing something that you as a leader consider wrong then you have to be able to let the soldier know that it is wrong. This came to test when a new black soldier entered his battalion and attempted to rally the other black soldiers against the white leaders of the battalion. Colin got word of this from his Sergeant Major and went to investigate the soldier. Colin found the soldier behind the barracks preaching to the other soldiers about the white leadership and it was found that the accusations were true. He simply called the soldier into his office had him transferred back to the states to be discharged from the Army. The message rang through the battalion and the soldiers knew not to mess with ?Bro P? as Colin Powell was called by some of the black soldiers of the battalion.
Racism had played a part in the Army of the past but in Colin’s eyes it seemed to be fading away especially with the release of the draftees from service. The Army was becoming an All-Volunteer Army and the education levels of the soldiers were increasing. Powell states that a low education and background was the culprit behind much of the toils of racism in the United States Army. He also states that it may not be as strong as the old days, but as a leader we must always be alert to these type of demoralizing attitudes.
1. Powell, Colin and Persisco, Joseph E. My American Journey.A Ballantine Book,