This week’s episode of Borne the Battle features retired Marine Corps Veteran Lieutenant General Walter Gaskin, the first Black American to command a Marine Division and the 19th Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. Gaskin discusses the challenges in overcoming adversity, stereotypes and biases in the international military community.
Inspired by a cousin who fought in Vietnam – and who was celebrated as a hero by his family and friends – Gaskin joined his high school’s ROTC program to pursue a military path through college. He deferred his draft to finish school and, later, earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma.
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno (right) Commander, Multi-National Corps Ð Iraq, shares a laugh with U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer (center), Commander, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, Commander, 2nd MEF, on Feb. 8, 2007, at Camp Fallujah, Al Anbar Province, Iraq, following the Transfer of Authority ceremony from the 1st MEF to the 2nd MEF. (U.S. Army photo by SGT. Curt Cashour) (Released)
Gaskin served as the Commanding General of the 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC, from June 2006 until July 2008. In addition to this role, he concurrently served as the Commanding General of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) during its year-long deployment to Al Anbar Province, Iraq, as well as the Commanding General of Multinational Forces-West.
Early in his career, Gaskin was one of only a handful of Black Americans in his division. He faced initial prejudice but eventually earned respect. Gaskin was one of the few representatives of the Black community in the Marine Corps, and in leadership positions for much of his career. His character was the example for others to see beyond skin color and was emblematic of the need for talent-based appointment and judgement.
Left to right: Lt. General Walter Gaskin (Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee) with Lt. General Jurgen Bornemann (Director of IMS) (Photo Courtesy of NATO)
Gaskin would later serve as the 19th Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, from May 2009 to August 2013. In that role, he also served as Acting Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from November 2011 to January 2012, making him only the second American to ever hold the billet.
In the podcast interview, Gaskin described how the international community wasn’t used to seeing Black Americans in high-ranking positions and that he strove to normalize the presence of people of color in positions of command. Performance, not color, is what matters most.
Gaskin currently serves as North Carolina’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
In this episode, Gaskin also discusses:
- His retirement and transition into civilian life.
- His experiences as the CEO of a defense contractor.
- Advice for Veterans interested in government contracting.
- His hardest job and the pressure he felt as a representative of his community.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE
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Jabari Shakir is a podcast intern with VA’s Digital Media Engagement Team. He is a journalism undergraduate at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.