While Powell studied Geology, he joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and received training. He became commander of his unit and enjoyed the experience, which helped him choose a military career.
After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. In 1962, he was sent as an adviser to Vietnam, but was wounded by a punji-stake booby trap, while patrolling the Vietnamese-Laotian border.
From 1968 to 1969, now a young major, he visited Vietnam to investigate the My Lai massacre incident when American forces allegedly killed 300 civilians. His report gave the American forces a clean chit.
He was awarded a White House fellowship in the Nixon administration from 1972 to 1973. He worked as the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget under Caspar Weinberger.
In the 1980s, he was posted at Fort Carson, Colorado. He was the senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, during the invasion of Grenada and the airstrike on Libya.
In 1986, he commanded the V Corps in Frankfurt, Germany. Two years later, he became President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor. He continued to serve the Army and was a Lieutenant General now.
In April 1989, after his tenure with the National Security Council, he was made a four star general and appointed the Commander in Chief, Forces Command (FORSCOM), at Fort McPherson, Georgia.
In 1989, he became the youngest and the first African-American officer to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired from the army four years later.
In 1994, he joined former President Carter to mediate with Haiti’s military leaders to allow the peaceful return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and successfully averted a U.S. invasion of Haiti.
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He founded America’s Promise Alliance, in 1997, to help children learn and succeed. It unites people from all walks of life to help young people realize their aspirations.
From 2001 to 2005, he served as the 65th Secretary of State of the United States, the first African-American to hold that position. He had to garner support for America’s war on terrorism.
Initially, he did not like President Bush’s plans to forcibly overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but eventually toed the line. However he wanted the international community to be involved in the action.
After the overthrow of Saddam, he embarked on rebuilding Iraq. He admitted that he had presented wrong information before the UN Security Council. He resigned as the Secretary of State in 2004.
In 2006, he joined Secretaries of Defense and State at a White House meeting to discuss United States foreign policy. He was also a speaker at the Get Motivated series that year.
He has recently become a member of the board of directors of Revolution Health, owned by business leader Steve Case. A health-related website, it provides online tools to help people better manage their health.
His first book, ‘My American Journey’ was penned with Joseph E. Persico, and in 2012, he published ‘It Worked for Me. It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership’
In 1988, Powell was presented the Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award, and two years later, the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official.
In 1991, Powell was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush and the NAACP's Spingarn Medal. He was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.
In 1993, he was presented his second Presidential Medal of Freedom and the second Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. He was appointed honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by the British Queen.
He has also been awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy, the Liberty Medal, and the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service by the Smithsonian Institution.
A distinguished soldier, he has been decorated with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Service Medal (Army), the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and many other awards.