Recognized in a SOTU: Military Wives

Part 2

As promised, this is a follow up to my February 20 blog post, “Recognized in a SOTU, Then What?” in which I wrote about individuals with military affiliations who have been recognized during a state of the union address. Today, I’ll note the handful of women recognized for their lives as wives of military figures and as citizens who made a difference in their communities.

In 1991, George H. W. Bush recognized Alma Powell, the wife of Gen. Colin Powell (then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Brenda Schwarzkopf, the wife of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who was overseeing the US forces in the Middle East. And then, in 1999, Bill Clinton honored Janet Cohen, wife of Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Alma Johnson married Colin Powell in 1962. In the1962 wedding photo of the happy couple, an aura of promise is as clear as if they had a map of their future instead of a cake in front of them. Decades later, another photo provides proof of the dream having come true.

An audiologist and speech pathologist, Alma Powell, worked at the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing for a time, but spent 33 years accompanying her husband on his assignments across the US and overseas, all while raising their children. But Ms. Powell did more than just host military and political glitterati at their home, she was a volunteer consultant to the National Red Cross, honorary president of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide. Her most recent work has been (with her husband) serving as the chair of the board for America’s Promise Alliance, which advocates for children and youth through organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Before his death, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, known as a no nonsense military leader and hard driving soldier, gave an interview to People Magazine (among dozens and dozens of others). The article says that throughout it all,  his great joy was returning home to his wife and children. Brenda Schwarzkopf may have learned how to be the wife of such a demanding person as Norman by working as a flight attendant and serving almost as demanding a group of customers aboard TWA flights. Throughout the stress of his military assignments often to places he couldn’t talk about, she says she just put on her smile and repeated her favorite saying, “Hang in there.”

Janet and William Cohen were known as a Washington “power couple.” William Cohen may have had the spotlight in the halls of government, but Janet had a career of her own, once a fashion model, a television journalist, and later a CEO of her own communications firm. But the two together were authors, penning their story of a mixed-race couple in Love in Black and White. It’s Janet’s work in support of the armed forces that garnered her the public’s attention—the New York Times called her part Eleanor Roosevelt and part Oprah Winfrey.

These women are all model citizens for military wives everywhere and have done much to give back to the armed services. There are millions like them who never receive recognition, but carry on, or as Brenda Schwarzkopf said, “hang in there.” I have my own favorite, my mother. She thrived in the role and was at least outwardly enthusiastic about each move. Sure, as kids, we had our doubts as we were uprooted from one school and dropped into the next, but we learned by her example to “hang in there,” and we are better people for it.

My mother and her four children, just back from four years in Europe

Follow up: Post 2/20/20. I found nothing more about Stephen Trujillo, but Jean Nguyen-Cole (the first Vietnamese female refugee to become a West Point graduate) contacted me after seeing my post. Jean mentioned she continues to serve our nation as a defense contractor strategist in information technology. And, she added, her West Point cadet uniform is on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. in Washington, DC.

Want to Know More? Pair this post with my 3/9/20 post on the “Singular Life of a Military Family,” from the point of view of the everyday military family and one man’s story in particular, friend and author Bernard Lee.


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