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From Gen. Colin Powell's 1995 autobiography:

His perspective on the Cold War, when he was Corps Commander
over the 3rd Armored Division & 8th Infantry Division.

  Photo Above: In the White House Rose Garden on November 5, 1987, the day that Colin Powell (2nd from left) was named as President Reagan's new National Security Advisor. His 1986 assignment as V Corps Commander in Frankfurt had been curtailed by Reagan effective Dec. 31, 1986, in order to bring Powell to the White House as Deputy National Security Advisor under Frank Carlucci. Immediately behind Powell in the above photo are (from left) Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense; President Reagan; and outgoing NSA, Frank Carlucci. (White House photo)


Highlights from the excerpts further below:

  • Powell's V Corps mission in 1986 was to be prepared to engage Soviet forces the instant they advanced across that weave of valleys forming the Fulda Gap.

  • Despite a new willingness by the Soviets to talk and negotiate arms reductions, both sides still stood "warhead to warhead."

  • Within the American defense sector of West Germany, four U.S. divisions faced nineteen Soviet divisions on a border bristling with modern, deadly weapons.

  • Powell's G-3 at V Corps, Col. Jerry Rutherford (future 3rd Armored Division CG) presents a when-and-where plan in which tactical nukes would be used against the Soivets.

  • In the fall of 1986 at V Corps Headquarters in Frankfurt (the original I.G. Farben building), Powell meets for the first time a congressman from Wyoming, Dick Cheney (future Secretary of Defense and future Vice President), then a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Powell was impressed by Cheney.

Excerpts from "My American Journey"
By Colin Powell
with Joseph E. Persico
(available at and others)


In one sense, not much had changed [by 1986] in the quarter century since my last West German tour. When I had first arrived in Gelnhausen [2nd Bde, 3rd Armored Div.] in December 1958 as a twenty-one-year-old second lieutenant, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States and Nikita Khrushchev the Soviet premier. Twenty divisions of Soviet and communist-bloc troops faced five U.S. divisions, plus our Allies' forces, across the border between East and West Germany. Two years before, the Soviets had crushed the freedom fighters in Hungary. One year after my departure, they had put up the Berlin Wall, and subsequently they stamped out bids for freedom in Czechoslovakia and Poland. East and West then stood virtually warhead to warhead.

... As I took over V Corps, in 1986, four American divisions [including the U.S. VII Corps] and nineteen Soviet divisions still confronted each other over a border bristling with even deadlier weaponry. On our side, we had replaced old M-60A3 tanks with sophisticated M-1s, obsolete M-113 personnel carriers with new Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and aging tactical nukes with more accurate and devastating models.

Yet, much had changed. For the past two years, Mikhail Gorbachev, a new Soviet man, age fifty-four, energetic, dynamic, preaching the openness of glasnost and the reforms of perestroika, had ruled the Soviet Union. Margaret Thatcher, no pushover, had said that Gorbachev was a chap we could do business with. The previous November, President Reagan and the Soviets had held their first summit at Geneva. Reagan had annoyed Gorbachev by insisting on pressing ahead with SDI ["Star Wars"] Still, they were negotiating arms reductions and trying to reduce the possibility of nuclear annihilation.

I was, however, a soldier, not a politician, and my present mission was to be prepared to engage Soviet forces the instant they advanced across that weave of valleys forming the Fulda Gap, the same role I had had as a young lieutenant a quarter of a century before [with the 3AD].

... As I moved into my new office, a Gothic cavern, the first thing I did was set on my desk a photograph of a man in his mid-forties with a broad smiling face and wavy hair, wearing army fatigues. He looked like a steelworker, the kind of guy you might want to have a beer with in a Pittsburgh tavern. I wanted his picture before me because this man was my opponent. General Colonel Vladislav A. Achalov, commander of the Red Army's 80,000-man 8th Guards Army, positioned across the Fulda Gap.

... I can still recall how proud I felt back in 1958 when Captain Tom Miller assigned me to guard that 280mm atomic cannon until I lost my .45 pistol in the course of the mission. In those days, at my pay grade, I gave no thought to the wisdom of using nuclear weapons in the field. It was simply "Yes, sir!" Airborne Ranger!

Twenty-eight years later, I was in the command center with my senior officers war-gaming an 8th Guards Army attack. My G-3, Colonel Jerry Rutherford [future 3rd Armored Division Commander and later V Corps Commander], was at the map board with a pointer explaining that if the enemy crossed the Haune and the Fulda rivers heading toward the Vogelsberg mountains, they would then be into the valley of the Main River. From there the terrain was flat, giving them a clear shot all the way to Wiesbaden and the bridges over the Rhine River. NATO forces would be cut in half, and the enemy could swing north all the way to the English Channel. "So our last defensible position is the Vogelsberg range," Rutherford explained, "and at that time it may be necessary to ask for release of nukes ... We'll hit 'em with Lances and ... artillery-fired atomic projectiles. The radius of effect will be just enough to close the roads without affecting our own troop movements."

We were not talking simply about dropping a few artillery shells at a crossroad. No matter how small these nuclear payloads were, we would be crossing a threshold. Using nukes at this point would mark one of the most significant political and military decisions since Hiroshima. The Russians would certainly retaliate, maybe escalate. At that moment, the world's heart was going to skip a beat. From that day on, I began rethinking the practicality of these small nuclear weapons. And a few years later, when I became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I would have some ideas about what to do with tactical nukes.

In the early fall of 1986, we were visited by a congressional delegation [at V Corps Headquarters in Frankfurt -- the "Abrams Comnplex," formerly known as the I.G. Farben Complex]. I had a fairly standard pitch for such visiting firemen. This particular group included a forty-five-year-old four-term Republican congressman from Wyoming whom I had never met before, Richard B. Cheney, then a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I was aware that Cheney, when he was only thirty-four, had served as White House Chief of Staff under President Gerald Ford.

Rather than put on the usual dog-and-pony show, I took the group into my private office. I picked up the photograph of General Achalov from my desk. "This man is the reason V Corps is here," I began. Achalov, I explained, had started out as a paratrooper, smashed his legs in a jump a few years ago, and switched to heavy infantry. "He is younger than I am," I went on. "He has had more training." The man was a military thinker who had written a half-dozen articles on European land warfare. I had read them all. He commanded eighty thousand troops, more men than I had, and his soldiers were just as well trained and armed as mine. They were just sixty-six miles from where we were sitting. "The forces I command, nevertheless, can stop them," I said. "We might not be able to hold back successive divisions, which are backed up practically to Moscow. But we can stop Achalov."

Congressman Cheney was reticent and asked few questions. What he did ask, however, knifed to the heart of the issue, and I recognized that I was in the presence of an exceptional mind. I could not have known then that in the years to come the two of us would be bound closely, facing not potential but real enemies.


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