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If you like Colin Powell's story, you might also like:
Ehud Barak,
George Bush,
Benjamin Carson,
Tom Clancy,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
Daniel Inouye,
William McRaven,
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Bill Russell,
Norman Schwarzkopf,
Alan Simpson,
Desmond Tutu
and Oprah Winfrey

Colin Powell can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Colin Powell also appears in the videos:
President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership,
What is a Leader?

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Colin Powell in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Justice & the Citizen
Black History Month

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America's Promise
Powell School
Stanford Business

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Colin Powell
Colin Powell
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Colin Powell Interview (page: 5 / 9)

Former Secretary of State, United States of America

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  Colin Powell

You've stated that you would like to see some of the spirit of togetherness and family that you feel in the military right now spread to the rest of the population.

Colin Powell: I talk about family a great deal. There's nothing like going out to a military unit, whether it's Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, and seeing young men and women, usually in their late teens or early twenties, working together. And the closer they are to danger, the more closely they work together, and the more they become a family. Because they recognize that, if my life depends on you, all I care about is your ability to perform, and your willingness to sacrifice for me.

When you finally get up into the front lines, or into the cockpits of our fighter planes and somebody is flying wing for somebody else, that's all that counts. I don't care what color you are. I don't care where your parents come from. Can you perform? I will take care of you, you will take care of me, we will sacrifice for one another. That's what keeps a military unit bonded together, it isn't discipline.

Discipline isn't what causes men to go into the face of enemy fire, it's counting on one another, and serving one another, and loving one another as family members. We saw that again in Desert Storm. It was a real hit for the nation to see these young folks out in the desert. They're not supposed to be like this, they're supposed to be druggies, they're supposed to be troublesome, they're supposed to be violence-prone, they're supposed to be uneducable. And here they were in the desert, smart as tacks, patriotic, clean, drug-free, working together in teams, as family members.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

I'm so proud of that, that I say to many audiences, you've got to capture that somehow. I know that the inner city of Los Angeles or New York is not an infantry battalion. But somehow, the lessons of an infantry battalion have to be brought back to the nation.

It's very interesting also that it was a volunteer army.

Colin Powell: All volunteers. And every one of them doing it willingly, every one of them proud, nobody there against their will.

You have expressed so much faith in the American people. Coming from the background that you just described at Fort Benning, it is especially touching that you have such a powerful faith. Where does that faith come from?

Colin Powell: It is a very powerful faith. It just comes from many, many years of watching this country deal with problems. Watching this country go through crisis after crisis. And always being amazed at the resilience that comes out of the heartland of the country, out of the people of the United States. I'm always of the view that no matter what crisis we are going through, whether it's a political crisis, or an economic crisis, in due course, either through an election, or through some other manifestation, the American people make their will known. That will is almost universally a will based on what's right, based on honesty, based on goodness. So, I am as corny as you can be on that subject. But it is the deepest element of my national faith.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

You're talking to a young man or woman who is kind of interested in the military, not sure. What advice could you give to such a young person? What are the qualities that make for a fine military career?

Colin Powell: You have to be willing to work very hard. It is not a soft life, it's a difficult life. It's a life of sacrifice, it's a life of service. That's why we call it service. You have to be ready for that. You have to be prepared to subject yourself to discipline and a certain structure, unlike anything in civilian life. Make sure you're ready for that. You've got to like it. You simply have to love being a soldier, or a sailor, or an airman, or marine.

If you're not sure, go ahead and try it for a while. It's a volunteer organization; you can get out. Many young people do get out. In fact, most of them do get out. The surprising thing is that as they get close to getting out, when they know they're getting out, they start counting the days down. "Oh, I'm out of here, I'm out of here, I'm out of here." But then they get out, and six months or a year later, they remember their military experience with great fondness, most of them.

One of the nicest parts of my job is hearing from veterans of the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, World War II, occasionally even an old World War I veteran. They always tell me about their outfit or their general or, "I was with Patton." They have very powerful memories and pleasant memories of their experience in the military.

Colin Powell: I encourage people, if you're not sure what you want to do, and you're interested in things military, go try it for a few years, it will grow you up. And then you can stay, or you can get on with a new phase of your life. But you'll be ready for that new phase of your life in a better way, I think, if you've had the military experience.

Lots of people in Congress right now and elsewhere are coming to us saying, "You've got to do something. You've got to get all these kids off the street. Take them into the Army, open CCC camps," do this and do that, in order to give young people the structure, the sense of service, so they can go on and be good citizens in other fields and endeavors.

Does that make sense to you?

Colin Powell: To some extent. I'm also a great constitutionalist. I believe that the military exists to protect the nation against enemies, foreign and domestic, to fight wars, and not be a social service agency. I'm a little concerned that there are those who, having failed to deal with the problem in our communities by community leadership, are going to try to put the problem squarely on the backs of the military. I'm not sure that's the proper role for the military in a democratic society.

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This page last revised on May 15, 2012 14:45 EDT
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