Leading from the front
Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is surrounded by Soldiers operating on Sword Base, Mogadishu, Somalia, Dec. 19, 1993, during his tour of United Nations Operations in Somalia II operations

Fort Sill, Okla. - When you look back at a soldier’s service record, it seems to march forward like a unit in parade. While the records seem built of similar assignments and duties, each of those biographies takes a unique route as the soldier marches on. The career path comes to reflect the qualities of the person behind the uniform.

In looking at the life of John Malchase David Shalikashvili, the retired Army general who died last week, you get the sense that he was a man ahead of his time. Though he was forged in the furnace of the Cold War, his career “quirks” helped make it unique and worthy of emulation by the modern Fires warrior.

“Gen. Shali,” as he was known throughout the military, was born in Poland in 1936. His father, a Georgian cavalry officer, fought in a World War II ethnic Georgian Legion, commanded by the Waffen SS, to liberate Poland from the Russians. When the advancing Russian army threatened Warsaw, the family was relocated to a small Bavarian village in Germany to live with wealthy relatives. In 1952, the family emigrated to Peoria, Illinois.

The younger son, John, who was fluent in Polish, German and Russian, was enrolled at Central High School and had to learn English on the fly. Reportedly, he improved his English by watching John Wayne films and Westerns. Officially a 'stateless person,' he was proud of the fact that he was solely a citizen of the United States of America. In 1958, he graduated from Bradley University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was drafted into the Army that year and was chosen to attend Artillery Officer Candidate School at Robinson Barracks at Fort Sill.

Gen. Shali went on to hold many assignments that were the norm for a successful field artillery officer of the Cold War era (this list does not include all his assignments):

* Forward observer and platoon commander, Mortar Battery, 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, Alaska.
* Senior advisor, Trieu Phong district, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
* Commander, 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery, Fort Lewis, Wash.
* Commander, Division Artillery, 1st Armored Division, Germany
* Commanding general, 9th Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.
* Supreme Allied Commander-Europe, Mons, Belgium
* His last assignment was as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C., appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. He served as the chairman until his retirement in 1997.

And yet, this was a unique man who would come to personify the modern Fires warrior before that mold was even conceived by Army planners. His career path included assignment as an instructor and staff officer at the Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Bliss, Texas in the 1960s. Though the ADA did not exist as a separate branch until after he left the school, the two "artillery branches" definitely had their separate ways and officers might move from one side of the coin to the other, but still retained their field artillery or air defense artillery mind sets.

He next travelled to Germany to serve as a battery commander and operations officer with the 32nd Army Air Defense Command until 1967. After attending the Naval War College and a tour as a military advisor in Vietnam, he returned to the field artillery.

His ability to move from one artillery branch to another reflected his ability to see things outside of his specialty - the "big picture." It was one of the ways that General John Shalikashvili made an indelible and unique imprint upon the Army, the Fires community and the individual American soldier.

Page last updated Tue July 26th, 2011 at 00:00