A general center of support

Waller Hall honors unique commander

By J.M. Simpson on June 13, 2017

Waller Hall adds a distinctive element to Joint Base Lewis-McChord's history.

It is the cornerstone of support for soldiers.

Named in 1998 to honor Lt. Gen. Calvin A.H. Waller, it is the welcoming and departing center for all JBLM soldiers.

Waller twice commanded Fort Lewis from August 1989 to November 1990 and then from March 1991 to November 1991.

He understood how to motivate soldiers.

On a cold Thanksgiving Day at Fort Carson, Colorado, then Lt. Col. Waller went around in a jeep to each of his soldiers working that day, handing out sandwiches that he and his wife had made.

"He sat down and spent a few minutes with each of them," said retired Col. Bill Smullen, Gen. Colin Powell's former chief of staff.

"That's the kind of quality leader Cal Waller was."

Born in 1937 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in humble surroundings, Waller went on to graduate from Prairie A&M University, Texas, in 1959.

Soon thereafter he enlisted in the Army and began his rise to become one of the highest-ranking African-American officers in the military.  His career spanned 32 years, and it ended with his second command of I Corps.

Waller was of the generation of officers who was determined to clean the slate of the disastrous morale problems that had plagued the Army after the war in Vietnam.

Less known than his contemporaries, Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Gulf War's Desert Storm (1990 - 1991) and then theater commander-in-chief Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Waller was uniquely positioned to address command issues.

While admired for his determination and his diplomatic abilities, Schwartzkopf also had a well-known reputation for losing his temper.

As America prepared for war in Iraq in 1990, Waller was ordered to serve as Schwarzkopf's deputy commander in chief for operations with US Central Command.

In his 1993 book, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, veteran Washington Post journalist Rick Atkinson depicted Schwarzkopf as a megalomaniac and that Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney had sent Waller to calm and control Schwarzkopf's temper to protect the morale of the staff.

While Waller never admitted that he was sent to keep Schwarzkopf at peace with his staff, his subsequent actions clearly showed that he was there to do just that.

Atkinson - who had first hand knowledge of the situation - later wrote that Waller could and did defuse Schwarzkopf's temper.

If a Schwarzkopf tirade continued, Waller "would launch into a corny joke or offer a bit of folklore passed down from his grandmother," wrote Atkinson.

On other occasions, "he would simply kick Schwarzkopf's boot under the table to calm him down."

In an interview with PBS, Waller said that he understood what was required in working with Norman Schwarzkopf.  

Waller went on to say that at the time Schwarzkopf had been working without a deputy, which had "left him enormously busy and I guess in many cases pretty short with people."

As he had done many Thanksgivings ago, Waller took the initiative to talk with his soldiers to improve morale.

"I felt it was important to me to stroke those people up who needed to be stroked up and sort of gently wire-brush those who needed to be wire-brushed," continued Waller.

His approached worked; Desert Storm proved successful.

Waller returned to Fort Lewis and command of I Corps, retiring in 1991.

Former Secretary of the Army once said of Waller, "He got the very best from soldiers because he cared deeply for them, and they knew it."  Waller died in 1996.