Military Leaders We’re Inspired By
There are many individuals and groups who inspire us in the military, from historical figures to modern-day heroes. Some of the most well-known military figures who have inspired countless people include Sun Tzu, Triệu Thi Trinh, Tomoe Gozen and Nakano Takeko. Other inspiring groups include the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Each of these individuals and groups demonstrated remarkable courage, leadership, and commitment to their country, and their stories continue to inspire generations.
Sun Tzu, the honorific of Sun Wu
Perhaps the most famous military strategist of the Eastern Zhou period of early China. He authored "The Art of War," and served as military strategist under the reign of King Helu of Wu. He was a victorious general in many of the most bloody battles of the Chinese Warring States period. His military work was introduced into Japan in AD 760 and served as an inspiration to Miyamoto Musashi.
Called the "Napoleon of Egypt" by a group of Egyptologists who studied his military, Queen Hatshepsut took power and ruled for 15 years. She is credited with maintaining Egyptian boundaries, something exceedingly difficult at the time. A few, smaller expansion battles were waged.
However, most were considered former Egyptian territories. Moreover, she established many trade routes with other kingdoms that placed Egypt as the top economic power and led to one of the most prosperous times in Egyptian history.
Khalid ibn al-Walid
Was a contemporary of the prophet Mohammed. He united Arabia under a single banner through an undefeated record in over 100 battles. After Muhammad's death, he played a key role in commanding Medinan forces for Abu Bakr in the Ridda wars, conquering central Arabia and subduing Arab tribes
His brutal tactics involved complete annihilation of enemies so that they could not mount a second attack under any circumstances. He is only one of three historical generals to remain undefeated in all military conflicts he participated in.
Triệu Thi Trinh
At 20 years old, Triệu convinced the Vietnamese people to rebel against the Chinese invaders in the 3rd century. When her brother tried to turn her back, she answered, "I only want to ride the wind and walk the waves, slay the big whales of the Eastern sea, clean up frontiers, and save the people from drowning.
Why should I imitate others, bow my head, stoop over and be a slave? Why resign myself to menial housework?" Although the Vietnamese lost the war, Triệu’s victories became a legend, beating the Chinese back in 30 battles. She is regarded as nearly a war goddess in history.
Created one of the largest empires in Africa from a small tribe after empowering his home village of Zulu of less than 1,500 people.
He was the first general in that area to use short spears known as "assegais." and implemented hard-core training methods, such as doing military drills barefoot to develop running speed and toughness. As a result, his armies were more agile than their adversaries, giving them an unstoppable advantage in the field.
Artemisia I of Caria
Artemisia was a 5th century BCE Queen of Halicarnassus, now modern-day Turkey. She was best known as the naval commander ally of Xerxes during his invasion of the Greek city-states.
The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of her heroics during the Battle of Salamis as decisive and incredibly intelligent in her strategies. Several of her recorded plans fooled the Greeks, Athenians, and Persians alike.
known as Japan's greatest swordsman, invented the two sword style "Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū Kenjutsu" and authored the warrior philosophy work "The Book of Five Rings." He is the stuff of legend since his death in 1645.
He used psychological tactics and his immense strength to defeat opponents in a straight-ahead style that married brute force and masterful technique. He remained undefeated in over 60 head-to-head duels.
Founded the Maurya Empire through his military exploits. He helped unify the entirety of India into the singular sub-continent that we recognize today.
He ruled over as emperor afterward. Not only was he able to unite the many smaller tribes within the geography, but he also had the cunning and wit to hold them together politically after they had been subdued.
Was the greatest enemy of Rome and the only general to defeat the full strength of the Roman army in numerous battles. He crossed the Alps for a superior position with thousands of infantry and 37 elephants, a nearly impossible feat.
He defeated larger armies with smaller forces using strategies known today as positional and guerrilla warfare.
Admiral Michelle Howard
Michelle Howard attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated from the Army’s Command and General Staff College. She saw command during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and on March 12, 1999, she became the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy vessel. She also became the first African-American woman to become an Admiral in the Navy. She is most noted for the 2009 rescue of Captain Phillips and his cargo ship that was taken by Somali pirates.
He eventually defected from the Ottomans back to his native Albania, prompting the mighty empire to send wave after wave of armies to destroy him. They were unsuccessful, and Skanderbeg held them off for 25 years. He earned the title "Champion of Christ" from the Pope. He eventually defected from the Ottomans back to his native Albania, prompting the mighty empire to send wave after wave of armies to destroy him. They were unsuccessful, and Skanderbeg held them off for 25 years. He earned the title "Champion of Christ" from the Pope.
Apache Warrior Lozen
Along with her brother Victorio, Lozen helped free the Apache people forced onto the San Carlos Reservation in the 1870s. After her brother’s death, she became fearless.
She fought beside Geronimo and supposedly could sense the enemy's location and number. "I saw a magnificent woman on a beautiful horse—Lozen, sister of Victorio. Lozen, the woman warrior! She could ride, shoot, and fight like a man," one account reported.
Pharaoh Ramses II
Stood at the head of 100,000 soldiers and established the borders of Egypt against the Hittite and the Nubian peoples, among many others. Many of the tactics he used in famous battles, like the Battle of Kadesh, are still used today.
He sponsored massive building projects, using the military strategies he developed in architectural and topographical models to create fortified cities that could withstand attack. His successors and later Egyptians called him the "Great Ancestor".
Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester
While assigned to the 617th Military Police Company, a Kentucky Army National Guard unit out of Richmond, Kentucky, Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for exceptional valor. On the morning of March 20, 2005, then-Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester was tasked with assisting a supply convoy moving east of Baghdad, a job that meant scanning and clearing the route of any improvised explosive devices her squad was ambushed in Iraq by insurgents, and she led her team through the "kill zone," where she and her crew killed the insurgents and cleared the area.
Attila the Hun
Was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in March 453. He became famous expanding the territory through invasions into the Persian Empire, the land that is now modern day Germany, and many other territories.
He conquered a large portion of Central and Eastern Europe. Many historians consider Attila the Hun the most creative and brutal generals of his era. He was well known for having a great deal of durability for battle and instilling this characteristic into his soldiers.
Warrior Queen Zenobia of the Palmyrene Empire in what is today Syria fought back the Romans and expanding the boundaries of her kingdom. After the assassination of her husband and son, she turned on the Roman Empire.
While not enough is known about her conquests and eventual defeat, the stories of her capture, taming, and disappearance has several variations, all of which signal the Romans did what they could to erase her influence from history.
Founded the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū and was the most important retainer of the Tokugawa Shogunate era. His sword style was one of two officially backed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. He was personal sword teacher to Tokugawa Ieyasu, Ieyasu's son Hidetada, and the third shogun Iemitsu. He fathered one of the more romanticized samurai in Japanese history, Yagyu Jubei.
Annie G. Fox
Serving as a nurse at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, Annie G. Fox was the first woman in American military history to ever receive a Purple Heart. She was responsible for the team of nurses who treated the victims of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
During the attacks, Fox is said to have “worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage, and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact...” as stated by Brigadier General W.E. Farthing and signed by Colonel L.P. Turner, Air Corps Executive Officer. Unfortunately, soon after being awarded the Purple Heart, the requirements were changed. As she was not injured in the attack, the Purple Heart was replaced with a Bronze Star Medal in October 1944.
Was appointed the head of the massive Muslim army that took back the Holy Land back from Christian invaders circa 1096. He goaded the Christian armies to do battle out in the desert, away from the safety of the city walls.
The Battle of Hattin is his claim to fame, the battle that saw Jerusalem returned to Muslim control.
Nakano, born in Edo, was the eldest daughter of Nakano Heinai, an Aizu official She was thoroughly trained in the martial and literary arts, she was intelligent from childhood, and could recall Ogura Hyakunin Isshu around 5 to 6 years old and never mistook a single character. Nakano made a name for herself in the Boshin Civil War. She led an unofficial Jooshitai (woman’s army) during the Battle of Aizu. Her victories and accomplishments became part of Japanese history and legend. Her weapon of choice, the naginta, became the accepted woman’s weapon to defend the home.
Hailed from the Amorite Dynasty and recognized as the first true king of Babylon. He gave history the first set of written law - the Hammurabi Code. He was well recognized for his military tactics of blocking resources from enemies during battle. His most famous exploit allied him with Larsa to defeat the Elamites, then breaking the alliance after the victory and conquering Larsa along with Nippur and Lagas. He was a popular ruler, using his resources to vastly improve the lives of his subjects.
In November 1866, Cathay Williams became the first woman to sneak into the U.S. Army and the first documented African American woman to ever serve in the U.S. military.
As “William Cathay,” she was assigned to an all-African American unit, the 38th United States Infantry Regiment. Despite being sick with smallpox, she served two years in the Army before being discovered and discharged.
Heralded modern warfare. He was a political force to be reckoned with, which added significantly to his military power within the Assyrian Empire. His many successful battles helped to expand the Assyrians in the Middle East for over 100 years. His most famous battle was perhaps his victory against the Kingdom of Urartu against the mighty ruler Sarduri II. From that battle alone, Tiglath was able to expand Assyrian influence into what is now Asia Minor, Syria, Iran, and Mesopotamia.
Joan of Arc
Jeanne d’Arc of Domrémy, France is better known as a Catholic saint. However, her leadership ended the Siege of Orleans in nine days, gaining her the respect of her soldiers. At 17 and driven by visions on angels, she convinced the King of France to allow her to command France's army. Her strategy was vital in helping the French win battles against the English. However, she was eventually captured, convicted of heresy, and burned alive at the stake. What made Joan of Arc so important was her strategies influenced the French battle model, and she became a model for Catholic women during the World Wars.
Was the Spartan general memorialized in the movie "300." He was a warrior king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, and the 17th of the Agiad line; a dynasty which claimed descent from the mythological demigod Heracles and Cadmus.
During his most famous exploit, he led an army of 300 Spartans and soldiers from other countries against a vastly superior Persian army. He held off a Persian army of more than 100,000 for seven days. Although he died in that battle, his raw heroism inspired many warriors for generations after.
Lieutenant Reba Whittle
On September 27, 1944, Reba Whittle, an air nurse, became the only American female prisoner of war in Europe during World War II when her medical evacuation plane was shot down over German territory. Despite this, she provided medical care at POW hospitals. Because of her status as a nurse, she was not listed as a POW until the Red Cross stepped in and she was rescued. For her work, she received the Purple Heart and an Air Medal for her service as an air nurse.
Known to his peers as "the Great," was the military leader of Macedonia. He inherited the kingdom after his father was assassinated under dubious circumstances. However, his durability for battle could certainly not be contested.
He led his army for nearly 12 years without a significant break on a march through the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River, Danube River and the Nile River.
Considered the premier onna-bugeisha, Tomoe Gozen pre-dates the samurai by several hundred years. However, she is seen as one of the most powerful women to ever grace Japan and one of the top military legends in Asia.
In The Tale of Heike, Tomoe was "a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman, she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot." Other tales say she was beautiful, fearless, and respected.
Is credited with winning the Eastern European land war in World War II for the Allied Powers. Zhokov protected the Russian capital city of Moscow after the Germans broke their non-aggression pact. Zhukov eventually made his way to the capital of Germany, Berlin, successfully dividing the German army and allowing the Allied forces, led by the US, to be successful.
Deborah Sampson, serving disguised as a man during the Revolutionary War, was one of the first famous women. Samson’s enlistment went under the alias Robert Shirtliffe. She was assigned to Captain George Webb’s Company of Light Infantry and was tasked with scouting the British men and equipment in Manhattan. In one confrontation, she was shot in her left thigh and extracted the pistol ball herself. She served until 1781 when she developed an illness, and she was discovered. However, instead of reporting this, the physician kept quiet. Eventually, Deborah couriered a letter to General Washington, who gave her a private discharge.
Created the largest single empire in history, the Mongol Empire of Northeast Asia and the Silk Road.
Through his military accomplishments and strategic partnerships, he raised descendants who extended the Empire of the Mongolians across Eurasia. The territories they conquered include present-day China, Korea, Southwest Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus.
The Celts were always known as fearsome warriors, and Boudicca was a queen of the tribe Iceni. When her husband’s lands were willed to his daughter and the Roman emperor, Rome took this as an insult and invaded. After her and her daughters being tortured and raped, Boudicca got revenge. She assembled her tribe and devastated the Romans. History estimates her forces killed 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers, destroyed the Roman capital in Britain, and caused the Romans to abandon Briton entirely. A bronze statue called Boadicea and Her Daughters stands at the western side of Westminster Bridge in commemoration.
Irish pirate Queen Gráinne Mhaol was a 16th-century warrior woman who ruled over the Umaill kingdom of Ireland. Her exploits would have remained small and confined to piracy along the coast of Ireland had Queen Elizabeth I not tried to extend her power. She wrote to Queen Elizabeth and demanded to continue her piracy against the enemies of England. She even met with Queen Elizabeth, which resulted in her captured son and brother being released from prison and England returning lands to the Irish. Little is known about the confrontation with Queen Elizabeth, however, Grace O’Malley indeed won that hidden battle.
A military leader of the Seminole tribe, held the Army of the United States at bay for more than 50 years. His greatest victories came during the Second Seminole War in Florida. Horse made a career out of daring prison escapes and won great victories in Florida and Mexico. He succeeded in petitioning the Mexican government to grant a band of former American slaves and Seminoles land along the northern border to ensure their freedom. He also served briefly as a captain in the Mexican army.
Æthelflæd was born around 870 at the height of the Viking invasions of England. By 878, most of England was under Danish Viking rule – East Anglia and Northumbria having been conquered, and Mercia partitioned between the English and the Vikings – but in that year Alfred won a crucial victory at the Battle of Edington.
She took up her husband’s sword after his failing health and helped defend Mercia from the Vikings. Over the eight years in power, sheconstructed a chain of fortresses across the kingdom. She also led a military expedition into the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog.
General Ann E. Dunwoody
Noted four star Army General Ann E. Dunwoody has the distinction to be the first woman to achieve this rank. She initially served the 226th Maintenance Company (Forward, Direct Support), 100th Supply and Services Battalion (Direct Support), at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. She served on the front lines in command roles in Iraq and Afghanistan where she managed the most significant global logistics command in Army history. When Commander of the Army Material Command, she increased the efficiency and effectiveness.
Cyrus the Great
Was the first Persian ruler to unify the whole of Iran under a single banner. To do this, he conquered the mighty Medes. As the first true king of the Persian Empire, he began a lifelong quest to expand his empire around the world, leading successful expeditions to Lydia and Greece. He also conquered Antonia, connecting the Persian Empire to the riches of the Mediterranean Sea ports for the first time in history.
Mongol Princess Khutulun
The daughter of the Mongol ruler Kaidu, Khutulun rose to be the king’s chief military adviser in the war against China. To avoid marriage, she demanded that any suitor must defeat her on in hand-to-hand combat. Undefeated, and rich from the spoils, it is rumored she did settle with a suitor.
Colonel Eileen Collins
Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins broke ground as the first female space shuttle commander in 1999 and was the first female shuttle pilot before that. She first taught at Vance Air Force Base for three years as a T-38 Talon instructor pilot. After transferring several times and educating incoming pilots on a variety of aircraft, she selected for the astronaut program in 1990. She completed four flights into space.
Is the Haitian Creole military leader who achieved the feat that is often attributed to Toussaint Louverture: securing the freedom of Haiti from Napoleon Bonaparte and the French. Born a slave, Dessalines fought and worked his way into prominence as a French soldier. He eventually joined the Haitian Revolution under Toussaint Louverture. After Bonaparte tricked Louverture into prison and killed him, Dessalines was the leader to drive the French from Haiti.
Pirate Ching Shih
In the 19th century, the Chinese coast was ruled by one of the most ruthless pirates in history.
Ching Shih started as a prostitute, who was captured by a pirate. Eventually marrying him and succeeding him at his death, Ching Shih took command with a vengeance. She commanded a fleet of 300 vessels and 40,000 sailors. Both the Portuguese and British navy, the top naval powers in the world at the time, failed to defeat her. He reign finally stopped when she was granted total amnesty, allowed to keep all her spoil, and given land to settle for the rest of her life.
The most famous Roman General and Emperor, was respected for his military and political acumen.
The month of July, previously known as Wuintilis, was renamed to July in his honor. His greatest victory was the conquest of Gaul, modern-day Italy, Switzerland, France, and Belgium. He was the first Roman general to lead a military expedition into Britain.
Admiral Laskarina Bouboulina
Was a Greek naval commander in the 19th Century. She was a heroine of the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and allegedly first woman-admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy.
She took control of a prosperous shipping business. When the Ottomans attempted to impound her fleet during the Russian-Turkish War, she turned her vessels into warships and sailed into battle. Her fleet blockaded Turkish-held ports throughout the Aegean.
Spy Sarah Emma Edmonds
Another woman veteran of the Civil War, Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man and joined the US Army. She served as Frank Thompson and was in the Second Volunteers of the United States Army. She served as a male nurse and a Union spy. Her work is detailed in her autobiography Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: Comprising the Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battle-Fields. During her time as a spy, she took on many roles including a black man, an Irish peddler woman, and even impersonated officers.
Lt. Colonel Martha McSally
Martha McSally was the first modern American woman to fly in combat after the restrictions were lifted. Her missions included air support aircraft over Iraq and Kuwait. Later in her career, she became the first woman to command an Air Force fighter squadron, the 354th Fighter Squadron. Today, she is a Congresswoman.