Gen. Jack Merritt, 87, a former AUSA president, died Jan. 4

Gen. Jack Merritt, 87, a former AUSA president, died Jan. 4

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Retired Gen. Jack Neil Merritt, a former Association of the U.S. Army president, died Jan. 4 at the age of 87.

A native of Lawton, Okla., Merritt served in the Army for 35 years, starting his career as a private in 1952 at the height of the Korean War.

As AUSA’s leader, Merritt warned in 1991 about the risk of cutting the Army after the success in Operation Desert Storm. “The problems lie not only with overall reductions but also with the speed with which they are to be executed,” he wrote in a column printed in the Congressional Record.

Adding, “For the Army, the rapid reductions mean that officers and noncommissioned officers, who have clearly demonstrated performance that meet this Army’s exacting standards, are going to be eliminated either by raising retention standards or by the more direct solution of elimination board.”

Writing about the long-term impact on readiness from postwar cuts, he said, “The need for a robust and ready military has not disappeared. … The first to pay for this blindness will be our soldiers and their families; and when the next crisis challenges the peace and well-being of the world, we may all be sorry.”

Merritt was a distinguished soldier from the start of his career.

In 1953, he was an honor graduate of his Officer Candidate School class. He was also top graduate in the Artillery Advance Course, a distinguished graduate from the Air Command and Staff College and a distinguished graduate from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

During his career, he commanded at every level in Field Artillery, beginning with a battery command in Korea.

He served as a gunnery instructor, commanded at the battalion and division artillery levels, and had been the 1st Cavalry Division’s chief of staff and later assistant division commander before becoming the two-star commandant of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla., in 1977.

He referred to himself as “Mr. Field Artillery,” but also told soldiers they needed to embrace a changing Army. “Nobody has a corner on anything,” he said.

He added, “We cannot afford parochialism in the Field Artillery. Everyone has a right and responsibility to engage at any time in creative thinking in any area.”

During the Vietnam War, Merritt commanded the 3rd Battalion, 34th Artillery, 9th Infantry Division, in a unique situation where conventional artillery was mounted on barges to support riverine forces in the Mekong Delta.

He also had a motto: “Get the job done, tidy up the battlefield later.”

Merritt was commandant of the Army War College in 1980, and commandant of the Command and General Staff College and commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1982.

Before retiring in 1987, he also served on the Joint Staff, on the National Security Council staff, and was the U.S. Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee.

Merritt became AUSA president in 1988, heading the association for a decade. One of his major accomplishments was the 1989 creation of the Institute of Land Warfare, the association’s education arm tasked with scholarly research and a book-publishing enterprise, functions that remain part of AUSA’s mission.

This also marked the expansion of professional leadership symposiums.

“We are first and foremost an educational association,” he wrote in August 1988. “We educate ourselves, the public, the Congress and all who are interested in the facts surrounding this nation. We will remind people that history – recent and long past – tells us that peace and freedom require strength, the strength to deter aggression.”

The current AUSA president and CEO, retired Gen. Carter F. Ham, said Merritt “was one of the very first people whose advice and insights I sought when I followed Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan as president of AUSA.”

“Gen. Merritt moved a little more slowly than in years past but his keen intellect was intact. I learned much from him about AUSA and about our Army,” Ham said. “Particularly helpful to me was Gen. Merritt’s advice concerning congressional engagement, advice I try to adhere to to this day.”

Ham added, “What I will remember forever is Gen. Merritt’s unwavering commitment to soldiers and their families. ‘Remember,’ he would tell me, ‘AUSA stands up for soldiers.’ A good reminder of who we are and what we are for.”