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tv   Former Secretary of State Colin Powell Joins Virtual Leadership Conference  CSPAN  October 18, 2021 2:15pm-3:04pm EDT

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democracy. c-span now, download it today. colin powell has died after complications from covid-19. he was secretary of state from 2001-2005. the first african-american to hold the position. he served as chair of the joint chiefs of staff from my 1989-1993 -- from 1989-1993. mitch mcconnell released a statement saying that america has lost a trailblazing leader. a son of jamaican immigrants became a four-star general and served for presidential administration's -- four residual administration -- presidential administrations.
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he discussed his upbringing, military career, and serving four u.s. residents -- presidents. this was part of the mount vernon conference. -- >> it was bought many years ago. do you imagine how anything could work in this world without men on the board? how this could happen? they have done a great job.
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>> for keeping the place looking absolutely beautiful. >> i think that is true. i also wonder whether, think about this, we have 200 plus years of men as president. did you ever think of what would happen if a woman became president? >> there is no reason why a woman cannot be president. we see them moving up, day after day. supreme court, within descendant, the house. they are moving up and now we have a vice president of the united states to be who is in line to be the president if something happens or if she runs for it. women are coming along in a way that i never would have anticipated. we have four star female generals all over the place. you better treat them like they
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are four stars. we have come a long way in the past couple hundred years, especially the past 50 years. we started pushing on this. when i was a battalion commander in fort campbell, kentucky. we would run every morning. we had some paratroopers songs that we sang from the old days. on morning my battalion commander spotted me running with my troops and using some language that perhaps was not appropriate for that. there was a woman's permission behind me. later that day he called me aside and as i do not use language like that in the division. i never did. it took me a while to clean it all up. i am in pretty good shape. >> something you know a great deal about, leadership. when you started out your career , use went to -- you went to the
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college of new york where there is a college named after you. it is operating and has 6000 students? >> yes. >> you have done many things in which you are proud. you are proud to have a college named after you. >> it is a part of a college. it is about a third of the college. it was done because when i got there after i had left the state department, i went up there and somebody had endowed some money to the small little think tank that we had. it was interesting. after a while i said i do not need another think tank. i want a place where young students can come and we can give them an education. they have to take it and use it. that is why they call it the go to ship leadership service.
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the part as part of that. these kids -- the service is part of that. now there is about 6000 kids. >> the young people that go there, are they the toting of private equity people? -- are they the children of private equity people? >> they are immigrant kids. many were born and they have parents -- many were born here and they have parents from abroad. when i went there 60 years ago, i came from an immigrant background. there were a bunch of jewish kids that were there. because you just saw this immigrant kids who are working at it. look at my parents. my mother did not -- my mother
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finished high school but my father did not. my sister was sent off to school in buffalo and became a teacher. nobody knew what i was going to do. it was causing a great deal of stress within the family. i finished with a c average. the undergraduate stuff. high school and all of that. i wanted to go somewhere and my mother said i had to apply for the bronx school of science. i said ok. i applied and they would not accept me. the counselor said you're not ready for anything like this. i went to a high score they had to let you in. -- school where they had to let to in. it was a good time being there. i went to city college of new york, i got in there somehow with another c average.
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then something happened at the end of the second semester. i saw rotc marching around the school. i realize, that is pretty cool. i joined our occ -- rotc. the faculty made it clear that you have got to do it our way, we do not believe in c's. i went up high within rotc. then i went into the army. in 1958, so a segregated country -- still a segregated country. the professor wanted to make sure that i knew that i was going to the south. places like that. that i understood the social changes i would face. i understood it and i got along fine.
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i did well as a young lieutenant. i never thought i would get far beyond that. maybe i would get promoted to major at some point. that was all i asked for. >> universe thought you would the four-star general -- you never thought you would be the four-star general? >> now that i am a four-star, people say, did you go to west point? no. did you go to one of the schools down south? the citadel? now. where did you go? ccny? the city college of new york. that is when i had the punchline , i set out up in the south bronx in harlem. when i was in the south bronx, the educational experience.
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it was in the corner of gilley street and i said to myself, i am full of years old, everybody breaks out into laughter. -- i was 12 years old, i said i'm want to be the chief of staff. , everybody picks into laughter. segregation still existed. -- i was 12 years old, i said i am going to be the chief of staff. everybody went into laughter. so rotation is still existed. -- creation still existed. segregation still existed. >> the sergeant said go out there and do it. >> you are stationed in the
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south where on the basis you are treated like you were a white person. when you left the bases, you are not treated well? >> i had gotten married and gone off to vietnam early on when it was just starting up. i came back from that tour, i have been away for a whole year. i saw the wife and the baby, a little boy named michael who i had never met. one night i was looking for a house for us and as i came through columbus georgia -- columbus, georgia. it was a pretty city. i went up to a store to order a handbook. i went to the front where there is a counter, could not go inside. the young woman behind the
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counter asked what are you doing i said can i have a hot dog or a hamburger? she said, no, i do not think so. she said i'm so sorry i'm from new jersey i do not understand any of this. but i cannot serve you. our take you around the -- i will take you around the back and get you something. i went back a a while to get a burger. six months later, july 4 in 1964, the accommodation act was signed. i went been down to that place and said hotdog please? yes sir. you got it. that was the beginning of the end of the segregation. that was the beginning of the end of a of restrictions. we just did not release black people from the problem. we released white people from
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the problem. it was a problem for both of us. and think -- i took that into my career. i went to korea, it was the third time away from my family in a period of 12 years. i kept moving up. >> did you ever think to yourself, you had prepared to give the last full measure of devotion to this country. you were injured in vietnam. did you ever say when i came back, i was prepared to give my life for this country and he will not serve me a hot dog? -- and you will not serve me a hotdog? >> i did not want to fight with this lady, she don't know why she was there. it was in processing. that is the way they depend out. she tried to help me, she said, are you one of the
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african-american students here at fort benning? are you puerto rican? are you black? yes. that is it. i cannot serve you. i will be back. >> you rose up eventually to become a four star general. did even of your parents live to see that event -- did either of your parents live to see that? >> my mother lived to see me get four star. >> did she say that was always want to happen? >> the whole family wanted me to get out of the army. all of my relatives. they said there's only one thing to do, my aunt was the senior person in the family. she invited me and my wife to lunch one day. she was lecturing us something
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awful. who have been hurt twice, every time you go over there to vietnam you got hurt. you failed -- fell. we are worried if you go back again you will die. you have got to leave now. i said you do not understand, i am a professional soldier. i cannot leave. this is my profession. she was not persuaded. i sit did i tell you that when i have gotten 20 years in, i am about 41 years of age. 20 years in. i can retire. they will pay me the full retirement pay for the rest of my life. in immigrant fashion, she said good deal. >> you rose one day you got a call from a friend of yours who said i would like you to come back. i named the national security
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adviser to president reagan at all like you to be the deputy national security advisor -- and i would like you to be the deputy national security advisor. ultimately, he said, i want you. you said the president of the united states wants me, he should call me. what happened? >> i cannot believe i said that the president has to call me. i was in a room twice as large as this room. as in one of the smallest sections in the white house. i had pulled out of troops before. when frank had taken me out of assignments before told me that we have got to have you back, i became the national security advisor. i need you here. as it frank, you doing it to me
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again. -- i said frank, you're doing it to me again. i said, if i am that important why doesn't the president call? as our way from the phone -- as i walked away from the phone, i heard him whisper. then the phone rings. this is ronald reagan. i stood to attention in my kitchen in my underwear. i said yes mr. president. he says we need you back here. it turned out to be a turning point in my whole career. >> when frank became secretary of defense you became the national security advisor for ronald ragan. you later went back to the military in terms of commending troops. you get appointed by george bush to be the chairman of the joint
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chiefs. did you think that was going to happen? >> i was just an immigrant kid. i was not expecting that. i fell into a great relationship with an only frank but with vice president bush but especially reagan. we were having a meeting in the situation room. i was chairing the meeting because frank was not there. the president was not there. you have the major cabinet members there. i am presiding over it which i do regularly. suddenly frank walks in and sits down at the other side of the table behind him is president reagan. i am wondering what happened. frank scribbled a note out to me. he passes it to me and i open up this little piece of paper note.
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it says you are now the national security advisor. nobody asked me, frank! i was not interviewed! that was the end of it. i did that for two years. the president and i formed a great relationship as i did with vice president bush. i came to the end and frank has gone off and thought i can get back to the army. not so fast. i stayed for a while longer. finally, i was able to break free of the white house and go back to the army. i told all of them, i am not retiring from the army out of the white house. i've got to retire from the army to get out of the army. that is what i want to do. bush, when he became president,
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he did something that was rather unusual. about two days after his election, we had offices right next to each other. he called me in. i said why is he calling me? he said i want to offer you a couple of jobs. he offered me three jobs out of the highest positions in the government. i said let me go home and talk to my wife about it. i barely spoke to her about it because i did not want any of the jobs. i wanted to go back to the army. i went to his talk to these chief of staff of the army. i sit is there a place for me if i come back -- i said is there a place for me if i come back? he said yes. i said the army does want me back, thank you but i have got to go back to the army.
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he looked over and said, does that include four stars? i said yes i will get four star. i got my four star, he took command of one million soldiers -- i took command of one million soldiers. that lasted maybe four months. i got a call that said we want you to come see the new secretary of defense that was cheney. he said the president wants you to become the chairman. president bush. i said i am the junior four star. there are 15 four stars. i am number 15. i have only been a four star for about three months. what is your point? i said well, ok. we reported that to the president. he came back and said that the
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incident has two questions. one, can you do it? no infantry officer will say no. i said i can do it. he then said are you worried about having everybody junior to you? i said it is not a problem mr. president. i said it is not a problem, we are professionals. and never was a problem. we got along great. >> the public in the public to not know you but they got to know you because saddam hussein invaded kuwait. you are given the task of figuring out how to get him out of kuwait. were you ever worried that that was not going to work out as successfully as we find it out to be? >> when we finally got the plan
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put together, norm and i were satisfied with it. we read in the leadership -- we briefed the leadership. i was not the least bit worried about it. i did not know how many casualties we would take. i said to president bush, i want to tell you something. there is no question about how this word is going to turn out. now how many cash case we will have, -- i do not know how many casualties we will have, but we will be them. -- beat them. they were asking us to knock them out and we did. we did it and we got a lot more troops in the region then we might have needed. it was a given. it was over.
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we did not want to fight a war. the president said cindy secretary to talk about -- send the secretary to talk to the iraqis. we did not want a war. we just wanted to give the land back 28. -- to kuwait. at the time, there were predictions when the senate was voting on whether we should go to war, that we would have 10,000 american casualties. >> how many did we get? >> 400 of those were accidents. norm and i were thinking it might be in the neighborhood of 5000. some of the bakeshop in washington or saying it was going to be 15,000 to 20,000. we were catching flak from different parts of the congress. i knew it would not be that harsh. but i could not be sure. we talked about it often.
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we thought at worst it would be around 5000. it turned out to be 300 or so will the terry casualties by the enemy and another -- military casualties by the enemy. >> there's something called the powell doctrine. if you want to go to war, have massive support and massive troops. is that fair to call it the powell doctrine? >> it is perfectly acceptable. it was the invention of the reporter. a reporter came to see me when i was chairman. we had just won the gulf war. he sat down in my office and asked how we did it. i said give me a simple expression of of your theory. the powell theory way of doing it.
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i said it is not written in any annual. -- manual. he said i'm want to write about it, i will call it the powell doctrine. -- he said i will write about it. i will call it the powell doctrine. i sent you know what you're getting into. if you cannot find -- i said you know what you are getting into, if you cannot find them, go into war with overwhelming force. decisive force. you will prevail. you will win. we did it in panama, several other places. desert storm came along and that is what we did. >> you retired from the military and you published a book on your life story which was a best seller. it was so popular that people said that the author of this book, maybe he should run for president himself.
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you did look at it, why did you not run for president? >> i am not a politician. i was not meant to be a politician. i thought about it for two weeks. i was getting pressure. i realized, this is not you. you are a soldier. you cannot be a politician. i was not bad sorting out political issues. when i faced a military problem i always had to look both sides, not just it is going to be this way. i always had to study both. i had spent over 35 years and just being a soldier. i gave it serious thought. one morning i woke up, put my feet on the floor in the bedroom, i shook my head and said this is not you. this is not you. so i went downstairs to see my
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wife who was in the kitchen. i said i am not going to do it. i am going to get a press conference tomorrow which says i will not run for political life. she looked at me and said what took you so long? she knew that i would not do it. what she also knew was if i wanted to do it and i didn't -- and she did not want to do it, i would not have done it. >> you said to your wife they disagree, who wins? >> it depends. if it is a movie, i might prevail. if it is political office, that was not in the game for her. >> when you came back as secretary of state and when you became secretary under george w.
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bush, he wanted to invade a rack. who told him -- iraq. you told him that if you go in there and you break it, you own it. >> another journalist got me into that one. a colleague in the press did say it. it made news. the pottery barn plan. everyone started blaming me. the line is not something i made up. it was made up by a reporter. it is a pretty good line. i accepted it, not in any military magazine, not in any manual. you will not find it except among the troops. they still like it. people said did you come up with this theory? i said no.
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if you look at it, you will find it goes back to the days of chinese imperialism. it is saying if you are going to go to work, make sure it is right -- you have tried every alternative without going to war. if you are finished with an enemy who was determined to fight you, make sure that you have put together a force that will win. >> there was a thing called bipartisanship were republicans and democrats would come together and pass bills together. that seems to have gone by the wayside. do you have any hopes that with the new administration coming in that bipartisanship can come back? >> it first point you are right. i had a lot of arguments over political issues. all kinds of things. it was always with people who
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could argue back. we would argue balanced arguments. we do not have that kind of government. i am not quite sure what will happen in the remaining time for this government. i have a hunch that the president elect when he becomes president, be more inclined to the old way of doing business. the current president, during his term, he did not see it that way. we are busy ending out of agreements, shooting out things, i do not think it served us well. >> when you are registered republican and you voted for republicans, to announce that you were republicans when you were thinking about running for president. he supported president obama when he was running and you have supported -- you supported president obama and you supported president biden.
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have you ever thought of becoming a democrat? >> i have a better idea. i live in the state of virginia where you are not registered as anything. you just decide what you want to do that term. i have also included for lyndon johnson, i have voted for both republicans and democrats. when i am asked about it, i said, examine both sides. see which makes the most sense to you. see which one you think is right for the country. that is who you vote for. i do not know any other way to do it properly. the scariest time was in alabama after i got back from vietnam. segregation was still a system in that part of the world. i was driving able to wagon, a
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german car. a cop was waiting. a state trooper pulled me over and looked at my license and my license plate. he came back to me and said i noticed you have this german car. you have it with a lyndon b. johnson sticker on the side of it. you need to get out of here as fast as you can. yes sir. >> george washington who built this house and lived here for many years, he passed away at the age of 67. can you imagine what it was like to be the general in revolutionary war with very few troops fighting against the best army in the world? if you ever had a chance to meet with him, would you have liked to ask him? >> how did you analyze these
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situations? how did you decide to take a chance here was to mark he was a remarkable soldier. he lost quite a few battles. he kept coming back. he has been in different parts of the army and different sections of the security system. he improved with each exercise. he never lost faith in himself. he never lost faith in the country he was doing it for. that was remarkable. i would i be the same kind of person -- would i be the same kind of person? not in the kind of situations he was facing. he had the country, far away from home. that was a disadvantage. the president at the time, our president at the time, if he got trapped he could always move
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somewhere. go up to new jersey or somewhere and reassess his situation and bring the troops back and train them. the french help, the germans help. he overwhelmed them. the british had to give up. >> what has been your view of the black lives matter movement? how do you think people should look at george washington? it was our first president, the leader of the war but he was a slave owner. should we still honor people like fort washington even though they were slave owners? do you think that the black lives matter movement will change racial relations in the foreseeable future? >> black lives matter is a reasonable statement of a situation we are in now. i will also say to my audiences, black lives matter, all lives matter. we have to think about all
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americans. black lives matter is resting on sounder ground. i cannot look at black lives matter, have to look at lives matter too. we will face this. i think things are improving. it is because i devastated professionalism and potential. in my talks to young people, i noticed and and i tell them they have to do your best. you have got to make sure that you are also showing potential. people say how did you become
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four stars? i did the best that i could. they never promise me anything. they do not promise you four stars. going thing asked me to do, -- the only thing they asked me to do and i did, as i became more senior, i would answer they are my soldiers i have got to take care of them. did i make mistakes, yes. whether criticized -- was i criticized by my seniors? yes that is part of growing up. a young student asked me have you ever failed at anything. i said yes. do you ever -- are you ever afraid? you cannot live without being afraid.
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you will fail. you have to fail. it is part of living. i have failed, the question is what do you do about it. you figure out what you have felt about and what to do. how to fix yourself, not pointing fingers at people. you have to figure out what did you miss, what did you do wrong? fix yourself. once you have looked at that failure and you have corrected yourself and the rest of the organization, to not ever touch it again. people will say you know what happened to me back in 1952? i do not care what happened in 1952. what happened last year? my first night in combat in vietnam, we were going down a trail. i was about the third person in the column.
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fire broke out, bulls were flying everywhere. -- bullets were flying everywhere. the guy who was two people in front of me, and vietnamese -- a vietnamese soldier was killed. we had to carry him around a couple of days before we got to a helicopter to carry him out. four went to my blanket, i said to myself -- before i went to my blanket, i said to myself, they will do it again tomorrow. you have to learn to deal with fear. fear is a natural thing in you. you have to learn about how to deal with failure and fear. i worked on that for a long time. my failures sometimes held me back. i was not always going straight up. i had a habit of telling people
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what i thought. how would get in trouble occasionally. one of -- i would get in trouble occasionally. when my bosses said i spoke too often. i said i have to, and advice to the president. i cannot ignore what i felt and thought. you've got to hear what i believe in. if the president of the united states called you, president-elect biden said i needed some advice in how to bring the country together. you are a great leader, will you tell him you would do to bring the country together? >> yes. first answer is start reaching out to the whole country. not just to a group of people who are your buddies. get people on your staff who are
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going to argue with you. could people who are working with you who will challenge you. -- get people who are working with you who will challenge you. we have so many friends and allies in this world. that we have put at risk to being friends and allies of us. that is not the way that we gained this country. we gained it as the number one nation of democracy. we were talking to friends. by trusting people. by giving them what they need if it is reasonable. so many times in my career as a soldier and eight security advisor, -- and a security advisor. i would listen. the stories are rather cute.
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but to have the spanish foreign minister calling me, she just got the job. she said to me you've got to help me. i said what is wrong. we have an island off the coast of north africa. the moroccans took it. when we saw that, we had to go take it back. we did that. now that they are coming back, they will not stay awake. would you help us get a deal between us and the other side? i said, it is not my business, having talked to the eu or nato? they turned us down. you've got to do it. that is what i did. i worked on it for two days at home. i typed up the agreement between the two countries.
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my lawyers were not happy with that when they saw at the next week. the only crisis i had was that they had two different names for the island. they said we cannot agree to this with two names. we will never get agreement. i thought about it and i called down to my joker first and the state department heard as it give me the exact place this island is located. -- i thought about it and i called down to my people and in the state department. i said give me the place where this island is located. >> you and your wife has led an organization designed to help young people become productive citizens and maybe leaders as well.
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young people that talk to you and say i want to be a leader, what do you think are the most important leadership qualities they should have? what is it that makes somebody a leader? >> for a about being yourself. -- worry about being yourself. we isolated this into five promises that we want every child in america to get. make sure you have an adult in your life, a responsible adult. hopefully a parent. somebody who would put this child in the right path. we do not have enough of these. the second promise was give me a place to go play. you need to have a boys and girls clubs. -- you need to have boys and
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girls clubs. need to have responsible health care. the whole country should have health care. i have spoken out about this repeatedly. we deserve it for every american. the fourth promise was education. every could -- every kid cannot survive without some kind of quality education. make sure that you give back. you are giving some service back to the country. a simple little formula. it works if you put people to work on it. people like you, me, that works fine. >> the highest calling of mankind is to be a private equity professional. some people say it is to be a four star general. john allen is a four star
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general, why do you think that four-star generals are more important to the country than private equity people? >> i have ever presented myself as being more important than here i am. if you think i can do something for you, let's talk about it. if i can, and if you can -- guys call me, i will do it. in many occasions when i was in the military, we didn't get that option. powell, go there. you are not a four star general. it made life a lot easier when you just did what you are told because that is what the army is all about. when i left the army, i had choices. i had to take careful look with my family and my children and with america's problems and it served me well. it served those people well.
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i've got no illusion about who i am or where i came from. the people who taught me everything i need to know was chinese military experts from 2000 years ago, and german experts. they are the ones who teach you about politics and making sure if you are going to wear that you do it well and you prevail.
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we had just changed into these new camouflage uniforms. it was cool. nice camouflage uniform. i put it on one day when i got it, and i got home wearing the camouflage uniform. this is maybe 20 by 25 years ago. i walk in the house at fort carson and my youngest child, anne-marie, she was about 10 or 12 at the time and she was watching tv. she turned around and saw me and said mom, g.i. joe is home. what are you going to do? >> collin, i want to thank you for your service to our country for many years to yank you for doing this interview and i am sure if george washington was here in person today he would say thank you for your service. >> what i ever say thank you to him for what he did. not just as a president, but as
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a human being who taught us that being -- what being a human being is all about. if a war came, you fight it and try to win. and then he left us with the messages i will never forget. his farewell speech, his comments about don't look for wars and he left us with that vision and he could have been the king of america, or a special president of america, he just wanted to be the president. he wanted it known that is all he is, the president. and then he decided to leave. he could have stayed longer but he stayed long enough. he warned us about spending too much money on the military. he warned us about getting too cocky. he left us with a great set of rules which are still valid to this day.


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