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Colin Powell, military leader and first Black US secretary of state, dies

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Colin Powell

Colin Powell, America’s first Black national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, died on Monday, October 18, at Walter Reed National Medical Center. He was 84 years old.

Powell, who had undergone treatment for multiple myeloma, died from complications of COVID-19, his family said in a statement.

“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” the Powell family wrote on Facebook.

“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” they said, noting he was fully vaccinated.

Colin Powell was an American politician, diplomat, statesman, and four-star general who served as the 65th United States secretary of state from 2001 to 2005. He was the first African-American secretary of state. Prior to the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, he and his successor, Condoleezza Rice, were the highest-ranking African Americans in federal executive branch history. He served as the 16th United States national security advisor from 1987 to 1989 and as the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993.

Powell was born in New York City in 1937 and was raised in the South Bronx. His parents, Luther and Maud Powell, immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. He was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from the City College of New York (CCNY), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology. He also participated in ROTC at CCNY and received a commission as an Army second lieutenant upon graduation in June 1958. He was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he held many command and staff positions and rose to the rank of four-star general. He was Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command in 1989.

Powell’s last assignment, from October 1989 to September 1993, was as the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. During this time, he oversaw countless crises, including the invasion of  Panama in 1989 and Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1990–1991. He was the 65th United States secretary of state, serving under Republican President George W. Bush. His term was highly controversial regarding his inaccurate justification for America’s Iraq War in 2003. He was forced to resign after Bush was reelected in 2004.

Prior to his appointment as Secretary of State, Powell was the chairman of America’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing people from every sector of American life to build the character and competence of young people.

He won numerous U.S. and foreign military awards and decorations.

His civilian awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice), the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal.

Powell is survived by his wife, Alma Vivian (Johnson) Powell, whom he married in 1962, as well as three children, two grandchildren.

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