Retired Gen. Shinseki Receives Marshall Medal

Retired Gen. Shinseki Receives Marshall Medal

AUSA President and CEO Gen. Bob Brown, right, and Gen. John Tilelli, left, present Gen. Eric Shinseki with the George Catlett Marshall Medal at the AUSA 2023 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. (Eric Lee for AUSA)
Photo by: Eric Lee for AUSA

The Association of the U.S. Army awarded its highest honor for selfless service to retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff and former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The 80-year-old Hawaii native received AUSA’s George Catlett Marshall Medal Oct. 11, the final day of the association’s 2023 Annual Meeting and Exposition, saying he was “deeply humbled” to receive the award. The Marshall Medal is named for the Army officer and statesman who led the Army, the State Department and Defense Department.

Shinseki, born one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, said, “I don’t come from a military family,” yet he feels “I’ve been a soldier most of my life.”

His first exposure to soldiers came from men in his family who served in the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. He recalls that they were young and robust, “flush with confidence in a sense of having done something big.”

Shinseki also recalls his uncles sitting around a table talking, laughing and drinking beer. They didn’t talk about fighting, but they talked about their friends, which made a big impression on a young Shinseki. “My discovery, learning about soldiering, was to begin [and] would last four decades,” Shinseki said.

His own Army career would begin with an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Seven months after his 1965 graduation, Shinseki was shipped to Vietnam. A field artillery reconnaissance sergeant helped prepare him so he wouldn’t be a liability to the team, an act that was the beginning of Shinseki’s deeply held admiration for NCOs.

He would serve two tours in Vietnam and was wounded twice in combat. He commanded at all levels, and in June 1997 became the first Asian American to reach the rank of four-star general. Shinseki served as the 34th Army chief of staff from June 1999 to June 2003. He was VA secretary from January 2009 to May 2014.

During his career, Shinseki said he learned that it’s hard to lead if you lack credibility and knowledge of your basic skills, a message now embraced by new Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George, and that trust and confidence are critical for leaders.

“Can anyone do that better than soldiers who have been raised and trained in the profession?” Shinseki said. “If you want to change, it takes leadership and innovation. Change doesn't happen on its own.”

— Rick Maze