Hugh Shelton

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H. Hugh Shelton
Born (1942-01-02) January 2, 1942 (age 82)
Tarboro, North Carolina, U.S.
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1963–2001
Commands heldChairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
United States Special Operations Command
XVIII Airborne Corps
82nd Airborne Division
Battles/warsVietnam War
Invasion of Panama
Gulf War
Operation Uphold Democracy
War on Terror
AwardsDefense Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Army Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal (4, with "V" Device)
Purple Heart
Congressional Gold Medal

Henry Hugh Shelton (born January 2, 1942)[1] is a former United States Army officer who served as the 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001.

Early life, family and education[edit]

Shelton was born in Tarboro, North Carolina[2] and graduated from North Edgecombe High School in 1959.[3] Shelton attended North Carolina State University,[1] and was a member of Pershing Rifles. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in textile engineering[1] in 1963[3] while earning his Army commission through Reserve Officers' Training Corps training. Shelton's further education includes a Master of Science degree in political science from Auburn University at Montgomery[1] in 1973 as well as studies at the Air Command and Staff College from August 1972 to June 1973 and the National War College from June 1982 to June 1983.[4][5] Shelton married Carolyn L. Johnson in 1963; the pair have three sons together.[4][5]

Military service[edit]

Shelton served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War[1] with the 5th Special Forces Group, and with the 173rd Airborne Brigade,[6] followed by a series of command and staff assignments. Following the Gulf War, Shelton commanded the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in his home state of North Carolina.[1] In 1993, he was given command of XVIII Airborne Corps.[1] Shelton led the Joint Task Force responsible for Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti in 1994.[6] In 1996, Shelton, a Special Forces soldier, was promoted to the rank of general and the position of Commander in Chief of United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM). He was the first Graduate of the U.S. Army Special Forces Program to command SOCOM.

Upon the retirement of John M. Shalikashvili, Shelton was appointed as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Defense William Cohen on 1 October 1997.[7]

Shelton led the planning of the Kosovo War in 1999 during his time in office. Later he coined the phrase "Dover test", testing the support for a war based on the reaction of the people after seeing American casualties returning at the Dover Air Force Base.[8] During the events of 11 September 2001, Shelton was flying on-board Boeing C-135 Speckled Trout, traveling to a NATO meeting in Europe, but turned back and returned to Washington.[9][10] Upon entering the United States Airspace, the C-135 flew past the World Trade Center so Shelton was able to assess the situation following the attack.[9] Already scheduled to retire in October, Shelton spent his last weeks in office coordinating military plans to destroy al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan and helping to develop an interagency strategy to defeat, disrupt, and degrade terrorist activities around the world. These would form the basis of Operation Enduring Freedom and the global War on Terror.[10] Upon Shelton's end of term, President George W. Bush nominated then-Vice Chairman Air Force General Richard Myers, who was sworn in on 1 October 2001.

Post-military career[edit]

In 2002 Shelton founded the General Hugh Shelton Leadership Center at North Carolina State University. The center was created to "inspire, educate, and develop values-based leaders, both locally and globally, committed to personal integrity, professional ethics, and selfless service."

In his retirement, Shelton joined the Board of Directors of Red Hat in April 2003, and was elected that board's chairman in 2010.[11][12] He also holds directorships at Anheuser Busch, Anteon International and Protective Products of America. At his alma mater of North Carolina State University, the General Hugh Shelton Leadership Center was founded in 2002, which grants scholarships to people who are committed to personal integrity, professional ethics, and selfless service.[13]

Shelton also served as an advisor to Senator John Edwards' presidential campaign from 2003 to 2004.[14] Shelton created a minor controversy for 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, a subordinate of Shelton's during the 1999 Kosovo military actions, when he stated: "I will tell you the reason [Clark] came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote," casting doubt upon Clark's candidacy.[14][15]

On March 1, 2008, Shelton announced his endorsement of Senator Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary, stating, "I've been with Senator Clinton when she has been with our military men and women. I know from those experiences that she understands the demands and sacrifice of military life. I am confident she will always put the readiness and well being of our troops first. She is ready to be Commander-in-Chief." Shelton was the second Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to endorse Clinton, the first being General John Shalikashvili.[16]

On October 12, 2010, Shelton published his autobiography, Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, along with coauthors Ron Levinson and Malcolm McConnell.[17] An excerpt tells the story of a high-ranking Clinton Cabinet member proposing that Shelton intentionally allow an American pilot to be killed by the Iraqis to have an excuse to retaliate and go to war.[18] The book also tells of Bill Clinton's tearful confession to Shelton;[19] a time during the Clinton administration when a close Clinton aide lost possession of the biscuit (top secret presidential nuclear launch authorization codes);[20] details of a contentious Camp David meeting among George W. Bush and his National Security Council immediately after 9/11, where internal battle lines were drawn.[21] His book also says there were multiple attempts to kill Osama bin Laden that were shot down by Madeleine Albright.

On 27 August 2010, a statue of Shelton was unveiled and dedicated at the Airborne Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC. The statue was commissioned and donated by H. Ross Perot.[22]

On 24 October 2010, Shelton appeared on This Week with Christiane Amanpour, on 6 December 2010, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and on 30 December 2010, on The Charlie Rose Show on PBS and Bloomberg TV, to promote the publication of his memoir.[23]

On 20 October 2012, Shelton was honored at the 6th Annual Brian & Kendra's Bluegrass Party in Speed, North Carolina. He was presented with a Distinguished Achievements plaque and a roadside display at the entrance of Speed, honoring his hometown and acknowledging his achievements.

Shelton and his wife, Carolyn, established the Hugh and Carolyn Shelton Military Neurotrauma Foundation in 2005 to fund research into traumatic brain injury among military personnel.[24]

Dates of rank[edit]

Rank Date
Second lieutenant September 19, 1964*
First lieutenant January 7, 1965
Captain March 19, 1967
Major February 7, 1974
Lieutenant colonel November 6, 1978
Colonel October 1, 1983
Brigadier general August 1, 1988
Major general October 1, 1991
Lieutenant general June 7, 1993
General March 1, 1996

* - Date of rank adjusted for time not spent on active duty. Receipt of officer's commission in June 1963.


Decorations and badges[edit]

Shelton's decorations and medals include:

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Badge Combat Infantryman Badge
Badge Master Parachutist Badge
Badge Special Forces Tab Ranger Tab
1st Row Awards Defense Distinguished Service Medal w/ 3 oak leaf clusters Distinguished Service Medal w/ 2 oak leaf clusters
2nd Row Awards Legion of Merit w/ 1 oak leaf clusters Bronze Star w valor device & 3 oak leaf clusters Purple Heart Meritorious Service Medal w/ 2 oak leaf clusters
3rd Row Awards Air Medal w/ "2" device Army Commendation Medal w/ 3 oak leaf clusters National Defense Service Medal w/ 2 service stars Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
4th Row Awards Vietnam Service Medal w/ 4 bronze service star Southwest Asia Service Medal w/ 2 service stars Army Service Ribbon Army Overseas Service Ribbon
5th Row Awards Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/ bronze star Vietnam Campaign Medal Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia) Kuwait Liberation Medal
Badge Pathfinder Badge Military Free Fall Parachute Badge
Badge Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge Air Assault Badge
Badge Navy and Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia German Parachutist Badge in bronze
Badge 504th Infantry Regiment Distinctive unit insignia
Unit Awards US Army Presidential Unit Citation US Navy Presidential Unit Citation Joint Meritorious Unit Award
Unit Awards Meritorious Unit Commendation Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Vietnam Civil Actions Medal Unit Citation

Other Recognition[edit]

In 1998, Shelton received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council members General Colin L. Powell and General John M. Shalikashvili.[26][27]

In 2002, Shelton received the Congressional Gold Medal. The citation says, "Throughout his 38 years of service to his country, his ascent through the ranks of the Army, two tours in Vietnam and duty in Operation Desert Storm, Gen. Shelton has carried with him the North Carolina values of service, sacrifice, love of family, faith in God and devotion to country."[28]

In 2011, The Command and General Staff College Foundation presented retired General Hugh Shelton with the Foundation's 2011 Distinguished Leadership Award.[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Biography of Henry Hugh Shelton". Associated Press; The Dispatch. September 21, 1994. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  2. ^ ""Who Did That Sign Say?" p. 4" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 27, 2011. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "General Henry Hugh Shelton". Rocky Mount, North Carolina: Twin County Museum & Hall of Fame. 2004. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Stout, David (September 17, 1997). "Man in the News: Henry Hugh Shelton; General Who Sets Pace". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Nominations Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, First Session, 105th Congress: Hearings Before the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate". Vol. 105, no. 371. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1998. pp. 459–462. ISBN 978-0160562556.
  6. ^ a b "Ex-Joint Chiefs chair undergoes spinal surgery". CNN. May 29, 2002. Archived from the original on May 13, 2008. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  7. ^ Stout, David (September 17, 1997). "Man in the News: Henry Hugh Shelton; General Who Sets Pace". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 3, 2021. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  8. ^ "Time to take the Dover test". CNN. November 3, 2003. Archived from the original on January 19, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  9. ^ a b Shelton, Hugh (October 12, 2010). Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312599058.
  10. ^ a b "Joint Chiefs of Staff > About > The Joint Staff > Chairman > General Henry Hugh Shelton". Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  11. ^ "General Hugh Shelton Elected Chairman of Red Hat Board of Directors". Red Hat, INc. August 30, 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  12. ^ Alan M. Wolf (August 30, 2010). "Red Hat names Gen. Shelton as chairman". News & Observer (Raleigh). Archived from the original on August 31, 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  13. ^ "About Us".
  14. ^ a b Arkin, William (December 7, 2003). "The General Unease With Wesley Clark". LA Times. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  15. ^ "Los Altos Town Crier – Gen. Shelton shocks Celebrity Forum, says he won't support Clark for president". September 24, 2003. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 5, 2008. Retrieved March 2, 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "General Hugh Shelton – News". August 30, 2010. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  18. ^ "Clinton aide's idea: Let Iraq shoot down U.S. Plane - War Room -". Archived from the original on October 20, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  19. ^ "Bill Clinton Wept Over the Monica Lewinsky Scandal – Washington Whispers (". October 4, 2010. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  20. ^ Lauren Frayer Contributor (December 7, 1941). "General: Clinton Lost 'The Biscuit' – Nuclear Codes". Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved December 8, 2010. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  21. ^ Tencer, Daniel (October 13, 2010). "Ex-top soldier: Iraq war 'fiasco' due to Rumsfeld's 'lies'". Raw Story. Archived from the original on October 18, 2010. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  22. ^ "100827-02 Gen. Hugh Shelton statue dedicated at ASOM". August 27, 2010. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  23. ^ "Gen. Shelton on Jon Stewart: Extended Interview With Opinions on WikiLeaks, Iran, DADT". December 7, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2011.
  24. ^ "The Hugh and Carolyn Shelton Military Neurotrauma Foundation". The Hugh and Carolyn Shelton Military Neurotrauma Foundation. Archived from the original on December 18, 2014. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  25. ^ The Chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1949-2016 (PDF) (3 ed.). Joint History Office. June 21, 2019. p. 205. ISBN 978-1075301711.
  26. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  27. ^ "Gen. Colin Powell Biography Photo". 1998. At the 1998 Achievement Summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, four Academy members and Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: General John M. Shalikashvili, USA (the Academy's Class of 1994), General David C. Jones, USAF (Class of 1979), General Henry (Hugh) Shelton, USA (Class of 1998) and General Colin L. Powell, USA (Class of 1988).
  28. ^ DeNardo, Christina; Associated Press (September 20, 2002). "Congressional Gold Medal: Patriotism embodied". The Fayetteville Observer.
  29. ^ "Throwback Thursday: Gen. Hugh Shelton receives CGSC Foundation's Distinguished Leadership Award". Command and General Staff College Foundation, Inc. July 22, 2020.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Succeeded by