Special to South Florida Times
The structure and focus the National Guard provided for Michael Calhoun led him to a milestone, a history-making promotion.
Calhoun recently became the first African American to reach the rank of brigadier general in the history of the Florida National Guard.
At a pinning ceremony held at the Callaway Armory in West Palm Beach, Calhoun became the fifth brigadier general currently serving in the guard. The event also marked his more than 30 years of service.
Calhoun, 58, leads the 83rd Troop Command, based in Tallahassee. He declined a request from South Florida Times for an interview but said through a guard spokesman, “Being the first (African-American) is a tremendous accomplishment for me. After nearly 450 years of military history in Florida, it is humbling to reach this point.”
Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, adjutant general of Florida, described Calhoun as a proven leader.
“Through all of his assignments (Calhoun) grew in leadership potential,” Titshaw said during the Sept. 23 ceremony. “He clearly demonstrated that potential in the Florida National Guard at the general officer level.”
Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa of the Florida Air National Guard division, who interviewed Calhoun, said he exemplifies leadership skills that any soldier could incorporate and use.
“Brig. Gen. Calhoun shows concern and challenges soldiers to think about their future and careers. What is their best potential? Every good leader tries to do that,” Kielbasa, 38, told South Florida Times.
“He lets the officers under him do their jobs but provides them with the guidance everyone needs. Those are the people you try to emulate.”
“The day before his promotion, he was mentoring me about my career, asking me about my career direction,” Kielbasa said. “I found that very refreshing. It’s nice to see someone who’s made it asking me how far I’ve progressed.”
Calhoun, who joined the National Guard in 1977, has served overseas and stateside, becoming a sergeant by the early 1980s.
After a six-year break in the late 1980s, he received a direct commission to second lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps.
He went on to serve as a pharmacy officer with the 131st Mobile U.S. Army Surgical Hospital.
In 2004, Calhoun was deployed with the 50th Area Support Group to Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On his return to Florida, he helped with relief efforts for one of the Southeast’s most destructive hurricane seasons. He served as a Florida National Guard deputy commander of task forces in Florida and Mississippi, in 2005, following hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Wilma and Rita.
Calhoun holds a bachelors in pharmacy from Florida A&M University and a masters in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.
He serves in the National Guard part time and works as a registered consultant pharmacist at a Costco pharmacy in Lake Worth, where he lives with his wife, Sofia.
Calhoun said through his spokesman that one of his regrets in life was taking time off from the guard between 1983 and 1989 to focus on his civilian career as a pharmacist.
With the focus and energy of serving in the National Guard being at such a high level, the yearning to return was strong, he said.
Calhoun credits his success in both his civilian and military careers to the discipline he received working in the guard.
“The National Guard, and the Army, provides you with structure. If you prosper within this structure, it will give you a blueprint you can use in the civilian world,” he said.
Even though there may have been other candidates equally qualified for the promotion, the guard equipped him with the knowledge to excel, he said.
“By no means am I the best or only qualified person for this achievement but the National Guard gave me the tools for success,” Calhoun said. “It gave me focus, and the ability to prioritize.”
Photo: COURTESY OF FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD
NEW GENERAL: Newly promoted Brig. Gen. Michael Calhoun. Calhoun’s promotion makes him commander of the 83rd Troop Command.