Watchman at the Gates Cover

Watchman at the Gates

A Soldier’s Journey from Berlin to Bosnia

George Joulwan with David Chanoff

University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2021, 296 pages

Book Review published on: February 10, 2023

When was the last time you read an autobiography that grabbed you like an adventure novel and you just couldn’t put it down? George Joulwan and David Chanoff’s book, Watchman at the Gates: A Soldier’s Journey from Berlin to Bosnia, might serve those criteria. Few people in history have been fortunate enough to be in just the right place at just the right time to not only observe history unfold but also to influence the inner workings at the highest levels of government throughout their lives. Gen. George Joulwan was indeed such a fortunate person, but his experiences were not just the result of luck; he consistently made the most of the opportunities as he rose to the highest levels of command. That is perhaps half of the story he tells. He sets the stage by describing his family roots and upbringing, then chronicles the steps of a truly remarkable military career, from Beast Week at West Point in 1957 to serving as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACUER) and Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command (CINCUSAREUR), retiring in 1997. In between those two dates, of course, he witnessed the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and collapse of the Soviet Union, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, narco wars in Central and South America, the Balkans genocide and war, and the Rwandan genocide. He provides an “I was there” narrative of those events as he saw them, as one would expect. What one might not expect is his discussion of how to get the most out of an experience and out of a mentor; this discussion is threaded throughout the book. His list of mentors includes William Dupuy (3rd Infantry Division battle group commander in Germany when Joulwan was a lieutenant and division commander when Joulwan was a company commander in Vietnam), Robert Arter (Joulwan was his S-3 in Vietnam), and Alexander Haig (his battalion commander). His war college classmates included Gordon Sullivan, Binford Peay, David Maddox, Gary Luck, and John Shalikashvili. It takes talent to succeed, but what one does with talent and how one incorporates lessons learned along the way is what separates talent from greatness. John Vessey made Joulwan his XO when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apparently based on Joulwan’s reputation. Alexander Haig pulled him in when Haig became the Army’s vice chief of staff, then White House chief of staff. This placed a relatively young Joulwan inside the White House during the Watergate scandal as the Nixon administration unraveled. George Joulwan’s autobiography is not an insider tell-all, but he pulls few punches. He tells it like he sees it, right up through his experience as U.S. Southern Command commander and SACEUR/CINCUSAREUR (during the Balkan Wars and the Rwandan genocide intervention). The other half of the story? Joulwan does a masterful job of weaving in coaching advice about how to become an exceptional staff officer—how to adapt to a commander’s information needs for decision making and leadership style. That was unexpected, but in and of itself worth the time and effort to read the entire book; it is priceless advice. Don’t pass this one by.

Book Review written by: Thomas E. Ward II, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas