It Took Courage

by Carl S. Ey

In 1958, nine U.S. Army Ranger candidates got off of a 3/4-ton truck in front of a church in North Georgia.  Tired from training at the toughest leadership school in the U.S. Army’s inventory, they walked up to the church doors anticipating a good Sunday morning service.  As they approached the door, it was made clear to them that two of the soldiers were not welcome inside the congregation.  The two soldiers were black.  Weather-beaten and disappointed, the other seven began to argue on behalf of their buddies and the racist overtone of this congregation.  Many people, especially today, would have understood if this scene had erupted into some type of violence or unpleasant situation.  However, one of the men stopped his comrades and told them that he and the other soldier would wait in the truck until the service was over.

“Colin told the soldiers to go and attend church and we will wait in the 3/4-ton truck,” said then-Ranger candidate, August Schomburg Jr.

Schomburg, tells that story about a famous American – retired Army Gen., Colin L. Powell.  The director of graduate programs for American University’s Kogod College of Business Administration reflects fondly on that story not because he was friends with a man that would become an American icon but because it exemplifies the type of judgment and courage that Powell would use to become the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Almost a decade removed from the most powerful military position in the world, Powell is still in the public eye and his deep-seated care and concern for the women and men in uniform remains steadfast.  The Washington Times reported on Sept. 8 that Powell is concerned about the lack of funding and amount of missions that the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are encountering as they endeavor to serve their country.  Powell indicated that the current administration wants to “pretend” that junior officers are not leaving at an alarming rate, that our aircraft operating levels are not rapidly dropping and that the military training centers are not under-resourced.

“The time for pretending is over,” says Powell in Dave Boyer’s Time’s article.  “The ones you can’t fool are the troops.”

Daniel Webster defined courage as “that quality of mind which enables one to meet danger and difficulties with firmness.”  Speaking out about the very institution that he guided took courage.  It wasn’t a political ploy – it is the truth and being politically correct is not his concern when it comes to our Armed Forces.

Unfortunately, being politically correct is driving the state of our military as opposed to our state of readiness.  Perhaps some of the men and women that influence our services today, in and out of uniform, should take notice when one of the history’s finest soldiers speaks up.

As each of the services struggles to retain their force and recruit new men and women, it is imperative that the nation understands that we cannot continue to expect service members to survive on food stamps, sub-standard medical support from Tricare and below-average salaries.

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them,” says Powell in his “A Leadership Primer” briefing, which directly corresponds to the fact that retention is consistently on the decline.  “They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you don’t care.  Either case is a failure of leadership.”

Don’t ignore Powell’s words.  We may not have the choice to do so anymore if we do.

“Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds,” says the man that wears the Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star and Purple Heart over his heart in a sharply creased Army uniform.