Shalikashvili, John Malchase David

▪ 1994

      When Gen. Colin L. Powell announced that he was going to step down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pres. Bill Clinton was afforded the opportunity to demonstrate that his own lack of military experience did not have to prove a barrier in selecting the best person to lead the United States armed forces into a new era. Nominee Gen. John Shalikashvili was hailed as an excellent choice, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 5, 1993. A soldier's soldier who had risen through the ranks from private to general, Shalikashvili also displayed the political acumen necessary for dealing with the drastically changed role of the United States military in the new world order.

      The grandson of a tsarist general, Shalikashvili was born on June 27, 1936, in Warsaw, Poland. His father, who was originally from the Soviet republic of Georgia, served as an officer in the Polish army until its defeat by the Germans in 1939. After a period as a prisoner of war, the elder Shalikashvili enlisted in the Georgian Legion, a Nazi-organized group of ethnic Georgians formed for the purpose of freeing Georgia from Soviet rule. In 1944 the Georgian troops came under the command of the SS, the elite corps of the Nazi Party, and were transferred to Germany. That same year Shalikashvili and his mother fled Poland and settled in Germany. When Shalikashvili was 16, his family immigrated to the U.S., settling in Peoria, Ill., where he learned English, partly by watching John Wayne films. He was drafted into the army as a private in 1958 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1959.

      Following service at a variety of domestic posts throughout the 1960s, he was sent to Vietnam in 1968. By then a major, Shalikashvili served as a senior district adviser to South Vietnamese forces. Rising steadily through the ranks, he spent most of the 1970s and '80s serving in various capacities in Europe. In 1991 Shalikashvili took command of Operation Provide Comfort—the campaign to airlift food and medical supplies to Kurdish refugees in Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf war. Shalikashvili won praise for his leadership of the multinational force that not only helped supply the Kurds but also protected them from aggression by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces.

      In 1992 Shalikashvili took up the post of supreme commander of the forces of NATO, dealing with the changes wrought by the end of the Cold War. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia threatened to spread throughout the Balkan region, while the collapse of the Soviet empire had created a power vacuum in that area. Shalikashvili's appointment as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff was largely due to his able response to these situations. At his confirmation hearings in September, Shalikashvili presented a more hawkish viewpoint than Powell's, but he also pledged that the future commitment of U.S. troops throughout the world would be restricted to areas where the United States had a clearly defined interest. (JOHN H. MATHEWS)

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Universalium. 2010.

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