General Donn Starry, RIP

Via Esli:

At the Army’s Command and General Staff College, in the Hall of Fame, there hangs a picture of one of the true giants of the army.  I pass it by on pretty much a daily basis, but don’t often pause to give it much thought.  But I did today. I just found out that he died on the 26th of August, at the age of 86. 

You can talk all you want about the current crop of generals, and indeed they are famous for a variety of reasons:  Generals Petraeus, Casey, Odierno, ad infinitum.  With the nation involved in multiple wars, we see their names in the news every day.  But few of them have, or will, make an impact as large as General Don Starry. 
General Starry was the driving force behind bringing the army out of the malaise of Vietnam.  From the standpoint of both Training and Doctrine, he was a visionary, and pushed for the development of “the Big Five.”  Those are the same weapons systems that we still use, and are still without peer on the battlefield:  the M1 Abrams, the M2 Bradley, the AH 64 Apache, the UH 60 Blackhawk, and of course the Patriot missile.  Not only did he push for the development of those systems, but fathered the doctrine of AirLand Battle with which to employ them, and developed the institutional training base on which to hone that Army to a lethal edge.

The Army’s Combined Arms Center recently ran a poll, asking if the Army had ever developed an operational concept as powerful as AirLand Battle.  By a margin of 85% the respondents (all masters of history and/or Army doctrine) replied in the negative.  You can argue that in this more modern, more complex operational environment, that ALB was passé; however, for the decades that it was the guiding operational concept for t he army, it had no match, and was certainly validated in combat in the Middle East.  Twice. 
Not to mention, Starry was a Soldier’s Soldier.  Rising from his enlisted roots (I must say that I am partial to that, myself), he commanded the Blackhorse 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam on his way to greatness.

Though XBrad mentions AirLand Battle doctrine frequently (having been a product of that training), I suspect that General Starry’s name is not commonly known in America today. That is too bad.  Amongst those that do know it, his is an incredible and lasting legacy, one that is still realized, every day, in the day to day actions of the greatest army in the world. 

XBrad here. For my money, GEN Starry’s work revamping and revolutionizing the Army’s training in the post-Vietnam era was even more important. But most folks who study that phase of the Army’s history understand that the doctrine and the training were developed symbiotically. One would not happen without the other.

GEN Starry also had a personal influence on me. A large factor in my decision to accept orders to Germany (and thus transition from light infantry to mech infantry) was reading his excellent history Armored Combat in Vietnam.

The AUSA obituary for this remarkable man is here.

Gen. Donald A. Starry, USA, Ret., who began his service in the U.S. Army as a private during World War II and rose to the rank of four-star general to command U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and U.S. Readiness Command, died after a lengthy illness in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 26. He was 86.

Known as a great soldier, scholar, mentor, author and visionary, Starry, after serving two years as a private, entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1948 as a second lieutenant in the Transportation Corps. He eventually became an armor officer.

Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., president of the Association of the United States Army, said, “ The nation has lost one of our most courageous, selfless, perspective and innovative Army leaders. His accomplishments are many and his legacy is found in the very being of countless American soldiers.”

3 thoughts on “General Donn Starry, RIP”

  1. Who knows? I can tell you the Army could not remain what it was during Carter’s misrule. There was something of a black cloud over Rucker when I arrived there for WOC Pilot Training, and my brothers Armored unit in Germany could hardly get spare parts without cannibalizing other tanks.

    DePuy was TRADOC at the time I went to Rucker (I still remember his name from the list I was required to know on sight. The better to harass us poor WOCS), and he was fighting a losing battle just to hang onto what little we had post Vietnam. The Army was in sad shape at the time.

  2. Trevor: what would it look like?

    i can’t say. i absolutely can not even IMAGINE an Army without Starry’s fingerprints on it. THAT’s how pervasive his influence was. and second order influence also. it shouldn’t be a surprise that in his wake were any number of carefully groomed successors. when i think back on every single armor/cavalry officer i have ever known who has made it to full bird or higher, i could probably do a “two degrees of separation” chart to show their linkage back to Starry. and when i look at the TRADOC jobs and big ticket commands THEY held…. well, it ALL ties back to Starry.

    …and he was a gripping speaker. met him in a professional development session at a small O’Club near the East German Border. he was ONE of about 4 legends in the room that day. they were sitting on a panel that did a brief discussion of a couple selected topics. then they took questions from mooks like us in the small audience. can’t remember a single specific thing any one of them said, but you could see the reaction when Starry spoke. EVERYONE was hanging on every single word. even the other legends on the panel.


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