The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) joins the nation in mourning the passing of Colin Powell, who served his country with great distinction as Secretary of State, U.S. National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“General Powell was the epitome of the warrior statesman, dedicating his enormous talents as both a soldier and a diplomat to advancing the interests and welfare of the American people,” said USIP Board Chair George Moose. “As the first Black man to hold the three most senior foreign policy positions in the U.S. Government, he was also a trailblazer and role model, and his example will continue to be a source of inspiration.”
Born in Harlem in 1937 to immigrant parents, Powell graduated from City College of New York and was commissioned through the Reserve Officers Training Program (ROTC) as a second lieutenant in the newly desegrated U.S. Army. Over the course of what would become a decorated 35-year military career, Powell rose to the rank of four-star general and advised multiple presidents, including as national security advisor to Ronald Reagan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H.W. Bush.
“I had the privilege to serve alongside Secretary Powell,” said USIP former Chair Stephen J. Hadley. “He was unforgettable — brave, smart and principled. General Powell was the best kind of American leader—the kind who makes this country great.”
In the many roles he played, General Powell helped lead America through some of the most significant foreign policy events of the 20th century, including the 1991 Gulf War. His approach became known as the “Powell Doctrine,” which helped reshape the U.S. military in the wake of the Cold War.
By the time he retired from the Army in 1993, Powell had become one of the most popular figures in the country — with some advocating that he run for president, a prospect he later declined. Powell returned to public service in 2001 to serve as George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, where he helped modernize the department’s infrastructure and galvanized and inspired its diplomatic corp.
“General Powell lead through dedication to service and determination to protect the United States,” said Judy Ansley, Vice Chair of USIP’s Board. “He will be remembered as one of the most respected and admired military leaders and statesmen of our time.”
Throughout his over four decades in public service, Powell never wavered in his love and dedication to his country. He remains one of only two people in U.S. history to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on multiple occasions, among numerous other military and civilian honors. But what gave him the greatest pleasure and satisfaction was his dedicated work to encourage and support promising young leaders from around the world.
“As a great statesman and general, General Powell knew the true, enduring value of peace and justice,” said Lise Grande, USIP’s President. “His life and service are an inspiration to everyone who seeks these.”
USIP offers our deepest condolences to his family and those whose lives’ he touched throughout his career.