News of the death of retired U.S. Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, 78, hit hard for retired Idaho State University professor Craig Nickisch. Schwarzkopf had been a member of the officers’ board that promoted Nickisch to full colonel years ago.
“We never served closely together,” Nickisch said. “But he was a tough nut. He was very much a soldier.”
The general who earned the nickname “Stormin’ Norman” during Desert Storm in 1991, died Thursday in Tampa, Fla., of complications from pneumonia.
“We’ve lost a real hero,” Nickisch said. “His intellect and understanding of all the forces while under pressure was astounding.”
Although Nickisch never served directly with Gen. Schwarzkopf, their paths crossed.
Schwarzkopf graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1956 and Nickisch taught German, Spanish and linguistics at West Point until his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1988.
“Norm would come back time to time to talk to cadets,” Nickisch said.
But the two men shared more dangerous real estate during their military careers. Nickisch served with the 1st Infantry Division, the “Big Red One,” during his tour of duty in Vietnam from 1967-68. Schwarzkopf served two tours of duty in Vietnam, one in 1965 and another in 1969.
Although Nickisch was retired from active service and had taken a job as a foreign language professor at ISU when the first Gulf War took place, he was glued to the events.
“My wife said I was like an old cavalry horse,” Nickisch said.
The professor said he actually tried to go back into active service so he could participate in Desert Storm, but the Army said no.
Nickisch was relegated to watching the events unfold from his home in Pocatello and he was impressed.
“He was magic,” Nickisch said about Schwarzkopf’s performance as a battlefield commander. “It was a little bit like Eisenhower.”
The retired colonel said few people can truly appreciate how complicated the Desert Storm invasion was with all branches of the U.S. military and foreign forces involved.
“Most people don’t know there was an armored division from Syria on our side,” Nickisch said. “Much of the success of that operation goes right to Norm Schwarzkopf. It was really complex.”
Schwarzkopf retired in August 1991, hit the lecture circuit and briefly was a military analyst for NBC. He also wrote a book entitled “It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General Norman H. Schwarzkopf.”
Nickisch said he’s been told by military friends close to Schwarzkopf that the retired general made more money in the one year that followed his retirement than he had during his more than four decades as a solider.
And Nickisch shared a little insight into the great warrior the country lost Thursday.
“He was a great general, but he lacked common sense when it came to doing things around the house,” Nickisch said. “When he retired, he had a hard time running a dish washer.”