There is an important story about “Stormin’ Norman” – who died Dec. 27 at age 78 – that has been missed in the many obituaries that have highlighted his remarkable life. These tributes often mention that he was brilliant and that he cared deeply about his troops, but usually give no specific examples.
Let’s go back to August 1990. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, and it seemed clear that America soon would go to war. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf was the commander of Central Command; he would be the man to lead the military forces against the Iraqis.
When the Air Force members of his staff presented Schwarzkopf with a briefing on an air campaign, he was not pleased. It was unimaginative; would lead to an unnecessarily high number of allied troops lost; did not take full advantage of recent developments in tactics and technology; and took a tactical rather than a strategic approach.
WHAT HE DID next was both unusual and important. Schwarzkopf, realizing that his staff did not have the brain power to give him the very best answers to his probing questions, immediately jumped out of the chain of command to ask for help.
On Aug. 8, 1990, Schwarzkopf telephoned the Pentagon and asked the vice-chief of staff of the Air Force (the Air Force chief of staff was out of town) to send him a more imaginative plan that included a number of options. Two days later, Air Force Col. John Warden, who had published a book (The Air Campaign) two years earlier, flew down to the Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
As Warden laid out his plan for an air campaign, Schwarzkopf listened quietly for about 20 minutes. A discussion followed. Schwarzkopf asked a key question – one that most military leaders fail to ask: “How much time will I have?” The normal, but less important, question would be “How long will it take?” Schwarzkopf, who had the ability to think and act strategically, understood that sometime during the military campaign there would be strong diplomatic and domestic political pressures to stop the campaign.
Also during this discussion, Warden made the point that Schwarzkopf had a real opportunity – to lead a campaign that would be the first major American military success since the landings at Inchon, Korea, in 1950.
After further discussion, Schwarzkopf said to Warden: “This is exactly what I was looking for.”
Schwarzkopf told Warden to fly back to Washington and to brief the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell. The next day, Powell listened to Warden’s briefing. Powell then flew to Camp David and gave President George H. W. Bush the highlights of the Warden plan.
Warden’s strategic concept was outside the mainstream of doctrinal thinking of the Air Force. Soon he was in trouble with some of the top Air Force leaders. As the buildup of military forces continued in the fall of 1990, the Warden concept was modified in a number of significant ways, but the final campaign plan was faithful to Warden’s strategic approach. Wisely, Schwarzkopf stuck with the essentials that he had found so compelling on that August 1990 day in Tampa.
The John Warden story is just one example of Schwarzkopf’s reaching out to young, innovative officers during the summer and fall of 1990. The brain trust he created and nurtured helped him build a dynamic ground, sea and air campaign. Whenever I hear “experts” criticizing him, I recall that during the highly successful Desert Storm campaign, with more than 500,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines involved, only 148 Americans lost their lives.
NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF and I were West Point classmates (class of 1956). I had a chance to observe him when he was a cadet leader his senior year. At age 20, Norman Schwarzkopf already had the leadership skills that would serve him so well throughout his life. His concern for the troops was clear those many years ago. Two of his favorite sayings were, “Get the troops out of the hot sun” and “Always be the last person in the chow line.”
Throughout his life, he dedicated himself to the simple concept he learned as a plebe at West Point: “Duty, honor, country.” His autobiography is still in print. It Doesn’t Take a Hero tells his remarkable story well.
Seldom does history grant a single individual the ability, charisma, creativity, moral force and intelligence to command the esteem, admiration and affection of an entire nation.
(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – serves on the boards of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, the Augusta Warrior Project and the Augusta Museum of History. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is genpsmith.com.)