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Emotional Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mourns passing of his 'friend and mentor' Colin Powell

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivered an emotional tribute to former Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday shortly after learning of the death of a man he called a mentor.   

'The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,' Austin.

'Alma lost a great husband, and the family lost a tremendous father and I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor,' said Austin who as the nation's first black secretary of defense followed in Powell's footsteps. Powell was the first African American chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

'He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me and I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great counsel. We will certainly miss him. 

'I feel as if I have a hole in my heart just learning of this,' said Austin, who spoke to TV cameras while traveling in Europe hours after Powell's family announced his passing. 

'I feel as if I have a hole in my heart just learning of this,' said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in remarks on the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Austin, who is traveling in Europe, called Powell a mentor

He then listed off some of Powell's accomplishments. 

'First African American chairman of the joint chiefs, first African American secretary of state – a man who was respected around the globe. And who will be, quite frankly, it is not possible to replace a Colin Powell. We will miss him.'

He concluded: 'My thoughts and prayers go out to the family. We are deeply, deeply saddened to learn of this.'

Austin was one of numerous top officials and dignitaries to honor Powell with statements. 

President Bush and former First Lady Laura said on Monday they were 'deeply saddened' by the news of Powell's passing. Under Bush, Powell backed the Iraq War in 2003 and was instrumental in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11.

'Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell', they said in a joint statement. 'He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam.

'Many Presidents relied on General Powell's counsel and experience. He was National Security Adviser under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and Secretary of State during my administration.

'He was such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom - twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad.

'And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend.'

Former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement called Powell 'a true patriot and public servant.'

We were honored to work beside him to strengthen communities in the United States, help resolve conflict in Haiti, and observe elections in Jamaica. His courage and integrity will be an inspiration for generations to come.'

Powell served as secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001-2005. 'Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell', the Bushes said in a joint statement. 'He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam'

Powell, the first black Secretary of State who helped formulated foreign policy under several presidents, died Monday morning at the age of 84 of complications from COVID.

The Pentagon powerhouse who served as a soldier in Vietnam and went on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was fully vaccinated when he passed away at Walter Reed Medical Center in Baltimore according to his family.

Retired four-star general Powell, who was also suffering from Parkinson's, is survived by his wife Alma and three children, and has a celebrated career that saw him rise up the military ranks after growing up in a Jamaican immigrant family in Harlem.

Alma Powell also had a breakthrough case of COVID but responded to treatment, according to reports.

His family confirmed his death in a statement on Facebook, but didn't mention whether he had received a booster shot. It's also unclear when he was diagnosed with COVID or how long he was hospitalized for, but he had previously been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that impacts the body's ability to fight infections. 

'General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from COVID', his family's statement said.

'He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.' He served under several Republican administrations – including for Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

The first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell (left), died Monday at the age of 84 due to complications from COVID-19. He is leaving behind his wife, Alma (right), who also had a breakthrough case of coronavirus

Powell's family announced his death on Facebook Monday morning. They said he was fully vaccinated against coronavirus

Powell (second right) poses with his wife Alma (right) and three children – Linda, Michael and Annemarie – at the White House after being appointed as National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan in 1987

From 1991-1993 Powell served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Bill Clinton after being appointed to the post halfway through Bush Sr's tenure. 

Despite being a lifelong Republican, Powell said in June 2020 that he was planning to vote for Joe Biden because Trump 'drifted away' from the Constitution and was turned off by the president's inclination to insult 'anybody who dares to speak against him'.  

Trump responded to the criticism in a tweet at the time saying: 'Powell, a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars, just announced he will be voting for another stiff, Sleepy Joe Biden.'

Powell vouched for Austin when Biden nominated him for Defense Secretary, as Congress considered whether to grant a waiver on a requirement he serve at least seven years in civilian life before assuming the post. Powell called him a 'superb choice.' 

Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. To this day he is the only black man to have ever held that post

Powell speaks with then-President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on December 1, 2010

Powell praised other retired generals who denounced then-president Trump – specifically in response to the protests that precipitated after the death of George Floyd.

'I think what we're seeing now with the most massive protest movement I have ever seen in my life, I think it suggests that the country is getting wise to this and we're not going to put up with it anymore,' Powell told CNN at the time.

Powell was born to Jamaican immigrants in New York City and raised in the South Bronx, according to his biography.

He first joined the military as part of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) during college and went on to serve as an Army lieutenant after graduation. 

Politicians and pundits were taken back by the seemingly sudden death. 

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor and personal attorney to Trump, tweeted: 'Colin Powell was a great American and a good friend.'

'I was one of a small, but determined group, that urged him to run for President in 1996,' he added. 'What if???'

Richard Grenell, the former acting director of National Intelligence under Trump, tweeted: 'Thank you for your service, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. RIP. And a sincere thank you to your family for their sacrifices, too.'

Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah also weight in.

'Today, the nation lost a man of undaunted courage and a champion of character,' he tweeted. 'A statesmen & trailblazer, devoted to America and the cause of liberty, Colin Powell's legacy of service & honor will long inspire.'

'Ann & I offer our love & sincere condolences to Alma and his family.'

Stacey Abrams, the first black woman from a major political party to run for governor of Georgia, tweeted: 'Godspeed to Secretary Colin Powell who led with integrity, admitted fallibility and defended democracy. Deepest condolences to his loved ones and friends.'

Powell is survived by his wife Alma (pictured) and three children – Michael, Linda and Annemarie

Powell started his military tenure in the Vietnam War. This photo from 1986 shows him and wife Alma during a farewell ceremony in Frankfurt when Powell was a Lieutenant General

Powell is sworn in as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (left) in 1989

'My condolences to the family of Colin Powell,' the Reverend Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader, tweeted.

'Though we disagreed on many issues, I always respected him and was proud of his achievements,' the liberal added. 'When he and I ran into each other and conversed, I always left feeling he was a sincere and committed man to what he believed in.'

Former Bush Jr. official Robert Charles also responded on Fox Monday morning: 'He was ever a listener but he is honest as the day is long. This is a man who was his own man and a great leader.'

'We won't see the likes of Colin Powell again for a long time,' he added.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served alongside Powell as a Cabinet secretary in the George W. Bush administration, tweeted: 'I'm heartbroken. #ColinPowell was a wonderful person, public servant and friend.'

'We did so much together in our various roles that it's hard to imagine not seeing him again,' said Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey.

'My prayers go out to Alma, his family, and to all whose lives he touched,' she added.

'Rest In Peace, friend.'

'This is hitting me hard,' wrote Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Jaime Harrison.

The former candidate for a Senate seat in South Carolina added: 'Colin Powell was a statesman who put his country & family above all else.'

'As a young Black man, he inspired me & showed that there are no limits to what we can be or achieve,' Harrison tweeted. 'Sending my prayers to his family.'

The Pentagon powerhouse: The rise of Secretary of State Colin Powell, 84, from a Jamaican immigrant family in the Bronx to the face of foreign policy under several administrations 

Colin Powell -- seen at a 1993 press conference in Baghdad -- retired from the military as a four-star general and later became the first Black secretary of state in American history

Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants who became a US war hero and the first Black secretary of state but saw his legacy tarnished when he made the case for war in Iraq in 2003, died on Monday of Covid-19 complications. He was 84.

The retired four-star general and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served four presidents made his reputation as a man of honor distant from the political fray -- an asset in the corridors of power.

'General Powell is an American hero, an American example, and a great American story,' George W. Bush said as he announced Powell's nomination as secretary of state in 2000.

'In directness of speech, his towering integrity, his deep respect for our democracy, and his soldier's sense of duty and honor, Colin Powell demonstrates ... qualities that will make him a great representative of all the people of this country.'

But he found it hard to live down his infamous February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- the evidence he presented was later proven to be false.

'It's a blot... and will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now,' Powell said in a 2005 interview with ABC News.

Colin Powell, seen here in 1991 while serving as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, completed two tours of duty in Vietnam

- From Harlem to Vietnam - 

Born April 5, 1937 in Harlem, Powell's 'American Journey' -- the title of his autobiography -- started in New York, where he grew up and earned a degree in geology.

He also participated in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) in college, and upon his graduation in June 1958, he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army, and was posted in what was then West Germany.

Powell completed two tours of duty in Vietnam -- in 1962-63 as one of John F Kennedy's thousands of military advisors, and again in 1968-69 to investigate the My Lai massacre.

He earned a Purple Heart, but also faced questions about the tone of his report into the hundreds of deaths at My Lai, which to some seemed to dismiss any claims of wrongdoing.

'I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened,' he told interviewer Larry King in 2004.

'So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored.'

Former president George W. Bush (R) chose Colin Powell to lead the State Department -- and Powell's reputation was forever tarnished when he made the case for war in Iraq at Bush's behest in 2003

- Born to serve -

Back in Washington, he quickly rose through the ranks to the pinnacle of the national security establishment, serving Ronald Reagan as national security advisor, and both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 1989-93.

Powell's experiences in Vietnam as a young soldier led him to develop the so-called 'Powell Doctrine,' which said that if the United States must intervene in a foreign conflict, it should deploy overwhelming force based on clear political objectives.

For many Americans, he was the public face of the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.

Powell was initially lukewarm about going into the country, but his reputation soared in the aftermath of the blitzkrieg that ejected Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait.

For a while, he even considered a run for the presidency.

But after retiring from the army in 1993, Powell devoted himself to working on behalf of disadvantaged young people as chairman of America's Promise, a youth advocacy group.

For a while, he fended off new questions on his desire for public office, until George W. Bush came calling for the popular military man to lead the State Department as the 65th secretary of state.

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell stands alongside his official State Department portrait following its unveiling in 2009

- History at State and war in Iraq -

'I hope it will give inspiration to young African Americans,' Powell said in his nomination acceptance speech in 2000, telling them: 'There are no limitations upon you.'

His four years at Foggy Bottom (2001-04) were forever marked by the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

Beforehand, Powell sought a more prudent policy, struggling for traction against hawks in the Bush cabinet while trying to sway allies for their support -- all to no avail.

He defended his support for the invasion until the very end of his tenure, and has endured the criticism ever since.

'I knew I didn't have any choice,' Powell told The New York Times in July 2020. 'What choice did I have? He's the president.'

Colin Powell, a liberal Republican, endorsed several Democrats for president after retiring from public life

- Liberal Republican - 

Powell freely admitted his liberal social views made him a strange bedfellow for many Republicans, though the party was often happy to hold him up as an example of its inclusivity.

'I'm still a Republican. And I think the Republican Party needs me more than the Democratic Party needs me,' he told MSNBC in 2014.

'You can be a Republican and still feel strongly about issues such as immigration and improving our education system and doing something about some of the social problems that exist in our society and our country.'

But since 2008, he has endorsed Democrats for the presidency, twice backing Barack Obama, and then Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

Powell earned a number of civilian honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- twice from Bush Senior and Clinton.

He married his wife Alma in 1962. They had three children: Michael, Linda and Annemarie.