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Roger Helle / October 20, 2021

‘General Malaise’

Our military always had those who rose above others. Apparently, those days are gone.

This week we heard about the passing of an American hero. General Colin Powell succumbed to complications of COVID-19 at the age of 84. Powell was one of those exceptional officers that only come around every now and then. Are there any like him in our military today?

Born of poor, immigrant parents in Harlem, he grew up in the Bronx and was educated in public schools. After serving in ROTC, Powell was commissioned as a second lieutenant and began a distinguished military career. Powell served in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal.

His career led to serving as the only African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, secretary of defense, and secretary of state. From such humble beginnings, this alone causes him to stand out. But it was the memories of those who served with him that I want to focus on.

Many remembered him as a man of dignity, character, and integrity. One officer who was reprimanded by Powell for failure to accomplish a task shared that afterwards the general said, “Let’s move on!” There was no abuse of his rank and authority.

A retired colonel talked about a time Powell was giving testimony at a hearing on Capitol Hill. He and another captain were outside the chambers when Powell noticed them. He stepped out of the hearings and engaged the two captains, asking them about themselves, their careers, and their families.

While I am not in agreement with Powell’s political leanings, those who knew him well discussed his integrity, loyalty, and strength of character. I’ve been preaching to the choir for years about the importance of character and integrity in our leaders.

Joining the Marines right out of high school in 1965, I went directly to Vietnam. After Vietnam, I returned to the U.S. and became a drill instructor. One day we had a surprise visit by one of the Marine Corps legends: Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, who was every Marine’s idol. His service began during the Banana Wars, serving also during WWII and the Korean War.

Puller received five Navy Cross citations, the nation’s second-highest award for valor in combat. He also received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star. He was the most decorated Marine in the Corps’ history. I’m told that today in bootcamp, when the recruits go to bed, they all call out, “Goodnight Chesty Puller, wherever you are!”

Our military always had those who rose above others; those who displayed courage and leadership when it was needed. Apparently, those days are gone and, barring a miracle in 2024, we are stuck with the current “malaise.”

Instead of the Chesty Pullers or Colin Powells, we have General Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Instead of courageous leadership, strength of character, and support for their troops, these two, in my opinion, are political weasels. They let Afghanistan fall to the Taliban, resulting in the deaths of 13 service members. They blamed everything and everyone for the disaster, refusing to take any responsibility for their decisions. In fact, they claimed it was a “successful” operation!

Perhaps if they were more concerned about their own troops instead of “racists” in the ranks (Trump voters), Critical Race Theory, shiny medals, and cool uniforms, they might have seen the disaster coming. “Chesty Puller, come back wherever you are!”

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