Clemmons, Reginal G. 19(?)(?)–
Reginal G. Clemmons 19(?)(?)–
Army officer, educator
Relatively unheralded in the shadow of General and later Secretary of State Colin Powell are a host of other high-ranking African-American military officers who have shaped and influenced the direction of the United States armed forces. One of those officers is Major General Reginal G. Clemmons, who in the year 2000 was named commandant of the National War College (NWC), the institution at the apex of the U.S. military’s system of education. The 23rd officer to hold the post of commandant, the equivalent of a deanship or presidency in the civilian educational world, Clemmons was the first African American to be so appointed. Assuming the post at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Clemmons found himself in the cauldron of a rapidly changing threat environment after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He oversaw a complete curriculum revision of the NWC designed to prepare officers to meet the new challenges posed by terrorism. When he retired from the NWC on July 31, 2003, Clemmons was cited (according to the National Defense University website) for “visionary leadership on the cutting edge of innovative national security strategy.”
Clemmons’ military career, over 35 years long, encompassed both field command posts, some of them in combat or conflict situations, and educational positions. A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Clemmons attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technological State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. It was at North Carolina A&T that his military education began when he joined the campus’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) organization. In June of 1968 Clemmons received his first commission as an officer, at the rank of second lieutenant.
It wasn’t long before Clemmons was sent to Vietnam, serving as forward observer and later as liaison officer with the Seventh Battalion of the 13th Field Artillery. Returning to the United States as a first lieutenant in 1969, Clemmons became commander of a Fourth Infantry battalion headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. He continued his education in both civilian and military institutions, earning a master’s degree in education from South Carolina State College in Orangeburg,
At a Glance…
Born in Wilmington, NC; married Sylvia Clemmons; children: Regina, Adrienne. Education: North Carolina A&T, BS in mathematics, 1960s; South Carolina State College, MA in education, 1970s; attended Field Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, 1972; attended Armed Forces Staff College, 1984; attended U.S Army War College, 1990. Military service: U.S. Army officer, major general, 1968–2003.
Career: Commissioned as field artillery second lieutenant, 1968; served in Vietnam, 1968–69; 5th Battalion, Fort Carson, CO, commander, 1969–70; 4th Infantry Battalion, Fort Carson, CO, commander, 1970–71; served in Germany, 1972–75; South Carolina State University, assistant professor of military science, ROTC program, 1975–79; served in Korea, 1979–80; United States Army Logistics Center, Fort Lee, VA, logistics assessment officer, 1980–84; 18th Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, NC, executive officer and battalion commander, 1984–89, 1991–92; 25th Infantry Division, Hawaii, commander, 1992–94; Fire Support and Combined Operations Directorate, Fort Still, director, 1994–95; Allied Land Forces in Central Europe, assistant chief of staff for operations, 1995–96; Seventh U.S. Army, assistant division commander, 1996–97; Allied Land Forces of Southeastern Europe, deputy commanding general, 1997–99; National War College, commandant, 2000–03.
Selected awards: Defense Distinguished Service Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster); Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Cluster); Bronze Star Medal; Meritorious Service Medal (with five Oak Leaf Clusters); Army Commendation Medal (with two Oak Leaf Clusters); Master Parachutist Badge.
Addresses: Office —National War College, Fort Lesley j. McNair, 4th and P sts. SW, Washington, DC 20024.
Clemmons’ tour of duty in Germany lasted from 1972 to 1975, as he served in the posts of assistant (operations), liaison officer, and commander with two different battalions. In 1975 Clemmons went stateside once again to take a position as assistant professor of Military Science in the ROTC program at South Carolina State. He remained there until 1979, and in that year he was promoted to the rank of major.
In the fall of 1979, Clemmons embarked on his third foreign tour of duty, this time to South Korea, where he was assistant fire support coordinator and later executive officer with the 38th Field Artillery of the Second Infantry Division. Clemmons’ return to the United States in 1980 marked a new phase of his career, as he moved from the study and practice of basic field command to a new emphasis on the nation’s deeper military strategy. In September of 1980 Clemmons was posted to the U.S. Army Logistics Center as an operations research analyst, and he spent the first half of 1984 as a student at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. A promotion to lieutenant colonel followed in December of that year.
For much of the 1980s, Clemmons was an executive officer and battalion commander with the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Another period of study in the classroom and in the field followed, as Clemmons became senior observer and controller at the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. Clemmons returned to the classroom in 1990 at the Army War College location at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania.
In the 1990s, after returning briefly to Fort Bragg, Clemmons spent two years as commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. After another year in Oklahoma leading the Fire Support and Combined Operations Directorate at Fort Sill, Clemmons embarked on his final overseas posting. From the summer of 1995 to the fall of 1996, he was assistant chief of staff for operations with the Allied Land Forces in Central Europe. In 1996 and 1997, as tensions ran high in southeastern Europe during the conflicts that grew out of the dissolution of the former country of Yugoslavia, Clemmons was an assistant division commander with the Seventh U.S. Army in Macedonia. He spent two more years, based in Turkey, as deputy commanding general with the Allied Land Forces of Southeastern Europe.
By this time, Clemmons had risen to the rank of major general. His background, which fused field experience, strategic theory, and education suited him for a top executive post in the Army’s educational establishment, and on August 31, 2000, Clemmons was named commandant of the National War College (NWC). The NWC, located at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., offered a rigorous ten-month training program for officers from all branches of the military who were being groomed for the military’s higher ranks. “We are preparing these students for possible promotions two or three years down the road,” Clemmons told Black Issues in Higher Education. Among the National War College’s influential graduates was Secretary of State Powell, whose image graced the halls of the NWC in both portrait and bronze-bust forms.
In spite of Powell’s high-profile at the NWC, minorities on the whole were underrepresented. Although he played no direct role in selecting students, Clemmons expressed concern at the number of African-American officers at the NWC; they made up less than ten percent of the student body in 2002. “I would like to see more minorities in senior colleges,” Clemmons told Black Issues in Higher Education. “Attending a senior college is one of the gates you need to go through to continue to advance.”
Clemmons’ main responsibility was to oversee a faculty of 53 and a range of course offerings, many of them concerned with crucial national security issues. Faculty quickly took to Clemmons and students bonded with him easily as well. “At the War College graduation, the students started chanting ‘Reg-gie! Reg-gie!’” General Larry R. Ellis was quoted as saying on the National Defense University website. “That reflected the high regard and genuine affection that people have for him.” Clemmons in turn, on the occasion of his own retirement, thanked the thousands of soldiers he had encountered “for teaching me how to be an effective leader, and how to love them as much as my immediate family.”
Clemmons earned a Bronze Star as well as a host of other decorations over his long career: a Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, a Meritorious Service Medal, an Army Commendation Medal, a Master Parachutist Badge, and finally, at the end of his term at NDU, the Distinguished Service Medal. His next assignment after the NWC, he told Black Issues in Higher Education, would be retirement. That assignment might also include spending more time with his wife, Sylvia, his daughters, Regina and Adrienne, and his granddaughter, Makayla.
Black Issues in Higher Education, November 7, 2002, p. 24.
Jet, August 5, 2002, p. 34.
“Major General Reginal G. Clemmons,” National Defense University Biographies, www.ndu.edu/bios/MGEN/Clemmons.pdf (July 14, 2003).
“Major General Reginal G. Clemmons,” NWC Commandants, www.ndu.edu/nwc/commandant (July 14, 2003).
“What’s New,” National Defense University, www.ndu.edu/info/whatsnew/clemmons.cfm (August 4, 2003).
—James M. Manheim
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