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Stormin’ Norman: Support the troops

TAMPA — The lasting legacy of the first Persian Gulf War was not created by stirring battlefield images or hard-fought victories. In fact, most of the war’s nuances have been largely forgotten.

Instead, it was the personalities behind the conflict that left their indelible impression on Americans.

There was President George H. Bush, a World War II veteran, and Gen. Colin Powell, a well-respected Vietnam veteran with a cool demeanor. On the other side was the defiant Saddam Hussein.

But possibly the most memorable personality, the one who will be talked about through the ages in history books, was Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, leader of operations during Desert Storm.

The charismatic Schwarzkopf came across as a gruff and rough, hard-headed and strong-willed leader who was portrayed as the ultimate man’s man.

Since the war, his legend has continued to grow. He has authored books, gone on the lecture circuit and is the current military analyst for NBC. Last October, he visited the USF Sun Dome with President George W. Bush to stump for a war in Iraq.

But, while it is rarely seen publicly, there is another side to Schwarzkopf. On Tuesday, at a charity luncheon at the downtown Tampa Hyatt Regency Hotel, 700 local leaders and residents learned a little about the caring side of the man dubbed Stormin’ Norman.

The Children’s Home of Tampa presented Schwarzkopf with the Helen A. Davis Award for 10 years of “leadership and compassion” with the organization. For nine years, Schwarzkopf has chaired the Sporting Clays Classic event to raise money for the charity, which he said has gone from raising $15,000 its first year to $109,000 a few weeks ago.

As he accepted his award, Schwarzkopf told stories about how he became involved with the Children’s Home, and about some of the people with whom he has worked. But it did not take him long to turn his attention toward the events in Iraq.

Schwarzkopf said he would be remiss if he didn’t comment about the war. He told the audience to remember the troops in the field.

“As we sit here enjoying this meal … troops are overseas doing a job,” Schwarzkopf said. “They’re doing a job for just one reason: They’re doing it to protect you.”

Schwarzkopf told the audience about a letter he received while leading Desert Storm. It was from a woman who made it clear that she was not in support of the decision to use military action. But, Schwarzkopf said, the woman wrote that while his soldiers were in the Middle East, she would support them.

“Whether you care or not … believe or not, just don’t ever forget the troops,” Schwarzkopf said.

With talk of the war aside, Schwarzkopf commented on the nature of his community service. In addition to giving to the Children’s Home, Schwarzkopf has worked nationwide with several charitable organizations, many of them benefiting children. His work to raise awareness for prostate cancer is also well known, and he has worked for charities with celebrities such as Paul Newman and Steven Spielberg.

Schwarzkopf urged the audience to continue to give their time and money. He summed up his drive to serve and the benefits he receives from his work with a simple saying.

“You can’t help someone get up a hill without getting a little closer to the top yourself,” Schwarzkopf said.

The Children’s Home was founded in 1892, making it one of Florida’s oldest charities. The home offers residence and counseling for children removed from abusive homes.

Helen A. Davis, for whom Schwarzkopf’s award was named, has served in Tampa for 50 years and has been an integral player in The Children’s Home.

Schwarzkopf is not the first notable person to receive the award. He joins George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, who received the award with his wife Joan in 2001, and Columba Bush, wife of Gov. Jeb Bush, who was honored last year.