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Courtesy PhotoDonald Bolduc served as an advisor to Afghanistan's leader, Hamid Karzai.
People Come First
For Retired Brigadier General
By Thomas P. Caldwell
17 March 2018
STRATHAM — Reflecting on a career that took him from serving as a special police officer in Laconia to the commander of special operations in Africa, retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc said he would realign his priorities today.
“It was always mission-people-family,” he said of his focus as a commander. “Take care of the mission, then take care of the people, then take care of their families. Now I’ve of the mind that perhaps that’s not the way we should approach it. Support the people that do the mission, support the families that support the people that do the mission, and the mission takes care of itself.”
Now, as a civilian, Bolduc and his wife, Sharon, have a new mission: providing support to the veterans back home.
Bolduc said there is a bureaucratic gap when it comes to the transition from military to civilian life — one he experienced personally.
“As soon as we left, that was it,” he said. “Nobody called to see how you’re doing, no one guided you from place to place. It was like you fell off a cliff.”
Those who attempt to find help in navigating the system find that everyone has a different answer to the questions, he said.
“Those gaps are huge, and they really exacerbate the suicide rate, the homeless rate, the unemployment rate, and the drugs and alcohol. People who have PTSD, traumatic brain injury, can’t get into a medical facility. The bureaucracy is too complicated, there are too many forms, and they get overwhelmed with all of that, and then they get forgotten.”
The Bolducs are working with Veterans Count, an easterseals program assisting veterans and their families, to bring all of the disparate resources together in New Hampshire.
“The transition gap is going to be different for every single veteran,” he said.
Courtesy PhotoBrig. Gen. Donald Bolduc with his wife, Sharon, at an Army Ball.
The situation for veterans is not Bolduc’s only criticism as he looks back on his career.
Having served in Special Operations Command Africa, he said most Americans don’t realize how “hugely important” Africa is.
“The Chinese and the Japanese have two bases outside their own countries,” he pointed out. “They’re in Africa.”
Europe and Asia recognize the importance of Africa, which Bolduc describes as “the front line of the war on terrorism,” and he notes, “The largest number of foreign fighters that support other areas of the world all come from Africa.”
Bolduc says the United States needs a third-world strategy that is very different from our first-world strategy.
“Right now we have this crisis with violent extremist organizations, and if we don’t get control of that in short order — and when I say ‘we’ it has to be our African partners that do it, not us. We have to approach it in a different way than we’ve approached Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria. It’s not a top-down problem. There has to be some advising and assisting up there, but it’s really a bottom-up problem; it’s a local problem.”
He explained that local governance in Africa is weak because those countries are used to having strong central governments. The local weakness leaves the people vulnerable to extremist groups.
“If we don’t get a handle on this in the next 10-15 years, then in Africa we’re going to be dealing with significant security problems that are going to have deteriorated into competition for resources like water and food and the ability to live day to day. When that happens — and I hope it doesn’t happen — if you think people kill each other over violent extremist organization ideas and ideologies, you haven’t seen anything yet, until people start killing each other because they can’t survive from one day to another because they don’t have any subsistence to do so.”
He said, “For the last 17 years, we’ve had the wrong approach almost everywhere. We think that dealing with the problem at the tactical level is going to have a long-term solution, when we’re not simultaneously dealing with the governance and development issues that create the longer-term problems of instability. There was a period of time between 2010 and the late part of 2013 where the strategy was right in Afghanistan, and we abandoned it, and we went back to the pre-2010 strategy, and it didn’t work. All the governance and development and security gains that we had between 2010 and the end of 2013 all went away in short order, and we’re back to square one.”
Bolduc credits his successful career in the military with his roots in the Lakes Region.
“Growing up in Laconia, I had a fantastic childhood,” he recalled. “Working on the farm built a great work ethic in me. My dad and mom raised me very well, with strong values and ethics. I was taught to believe in God and trust in God. I think that, with that and my coaches in football and other sports — Jim Fitzgerald and Mr. McCabe and Mr. Phelps, and many others — I was able to get a good upbringing that allowed me to be successful outside of Laconia and other places in the world.”
He admits, “I wasn’t the best student in school,” but said, “When I was a private in the United States Army and I had dug my 29th foxhole, then I realized that education was important.”
In 10th grade, he joined the Police Cadet program in Laconia and fell in love with law enforcement. In his senior year, he became Laconia’s youngest special police officer — a job that cost him some friendships, including that of his girlfriend, who couldn’t take the pressure he said.
“It bothered my mother because we’d get phone calls at the house and we’d get death threats.”
Nevertheless, Bolduc said the experience was “a huge lesson to me about morals, values, ethics, and the importance of moral courage over physical courage.”
He still had visions of returning to a job in law enforcement when he joined the military.
“Joining the military was at the time a requirement in the Bolduc family. My grandfather, Charles Bolduc, thought that all males in the family should serve,” he said. “Not wanting to disappoint my grandfather and wanting to serve my country in the same way that my uncles did and my grandfather did and my cousins did, I thought that was something that I should do.”
He chose active-duty Army and found that basic training was “a walk in the park” because of his upbringing.
“The first reason basic was easy was because of the fact that I’d remained very active in physical sports,” he said. “The second reason was my dad was a very strict disciplinarian. He was the first drill sergeant in my life. The second drill sergeant in my life was the nuns in Catholic school, from first grade to sixth grade. They trained me hard, and they had corporal punishment back then, so I was used to getting slapped around a little bit.”
Courtesy PhotoGen. Colin Powell presents the Soldier of the Year Award to PFC Donald Bolduc during a ceremony in Colorado. Powell was instrumental in Bolduc's transfer to the 82nd Airborn Division.
‘Help This Young Troop’
Bolduc’s first assignment was with the Fourth Infantry Division in Colorado, but he wanted to be airborne, so he worked hard and earned the Soldier of the Year Award. Presenting that award was Colin Powell, a one-star general at the time.
“I had breakfast with him and he asked me in casual conversation how I liked the Army. Then he started asking me, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I told him I really wanted to be airborne, and he said, ‘Don’t you like the Fourth Infantry Division?’ and I said, ‘Oh, no, sir, I love the Fourth Infantry Division, but I want to jump out of airplanes, and every time I apply, I get turned down.’”
Powell turned to command sergeant major and asked, “Can we make this happen for this young troop, and send him to the 82nd Airborne Division?”
“I thought this was great,” Bolduc said, “until after we’d finished breakfast and went back to the unit, and I got a call to report to the sergeant major, and it all went downhill from there. I was doing pushups and exercising in his office until he got tired.”
His superior may not have been happy about it, but Bolduc got his transfer to the 82nd Airborne and soon was sent to Grenada for a war that he describes as “a small blip on the radar.”
His company commander discouraged him from leaving military service and entering a civilian law enforcement career, telling him, “I really see you as a sergeant major. I just don’t think you’re going to be successful as a police officer.”
“I took that as a challenge, and as a compliment, because all of the officers in my company were West Point, except for one, and that’s the one everybody liked. … I decided to go active duty. I’m very proud that I’m from New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, from Laconia, the son of a farmer, grandson of a farmer, went to a small school, learned small community values, learned good ethics, learned to be a god-fearing man, learned that no one is going to give you anything for free and, if they do, you should be suspect of it. While the odds were against me to make general officer, I will do that, but I didn’t do that without the help of many, many people.”
Bolduc credits his wife, Sharon, with allowing him to pursue his military career. They met while both were in the ROTC program at Salem State College in Massachusetts, and they started dating and then married and started a family.
“I could not have had the career I had without the support of my wife, and all the sacrifices that she made in our 29-year career together in the military, as she raised our three boys and took care of everything on the home front, while I focused on my duties and responsibilities in serving my country as an officer.
He also credits his subordinates for his success.
“By doing their job, it reflected well on me,” he said. “I was able to support them at a higher level and a different kind of level to make what they did every single day a little bit better and a little bit easier.”
That career included serving in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, two years in Korea, and then into Special Forces.
When 9/11 occurred, he was off to his first rotation in Afghanistan, where he served as an advisor to Hamid Karzai, who became interim leader and later president.
He would progress through the ranks and go back and forth between the United States and Afghanistan until 2013 when he became brigadier general and went to African Command in Stuttgart, Germany. Assigned to Special Operations Command Africa, Bolduc said he dealt with the leaders of 26 countries while in command of “some of the finest service members that I’ve ever served with.”
Tom Caldwell PhotoBrig. Gen. Donald Bolduc has a display of memorabilia from his career, including a memorial to service members who died in the line of duty which he kept with him wherever he served.