Just hours after he directed his troops to begin the ground offensive that would drive Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf issued a less earth-shattering command from his map-filled war room in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At a formal staff briefing, Schwarzkopf ordered everyone to stand and sing "Happy Birthday" to one of his men. As Operation Desert Storm reached its peak, Schwarzkopf phoned his wife, Brenda, back home in Tampa, Fla. "He said nothing about the war," she says. "He just wanted to know how everything was going with the family."

It is that rare blend—martial mastery and human sensitivity—that draws raves from friends and foot soldiers. "He's a legend over here," says Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Glaze. "All the guys in the field love him." The 6'3", 240-lb. commander—nicknamed Bear for both his grizzly and teddyish sides—"is a fighter's fighter," says retired Gen. John "Doc" Bahnsen, a friend. "There are a lot of armchair generals but damn few combat generals."

The son of another general, H. Norman Sr., Schwarzkopf, 56, has displayed a zest for the military since playing cowboys and Indians with his sister, Sally, as a toddler in Trenton, N.J. After graduating West Point in 1956, he served two tours in Vietnam and later moved his family from post to post at least 16 times, says Brenda. Two years ago, as the head of the U.S. Central Command, Schwarzkopf sensed the possibility of a Middle East conflict and laid down the plans that would become the model for Desert Shield. "I think he just knew he was equipped for greatness," says retired Brig. Gen. Ward M. LeHardy, a longtime pal. The following pages trace the rise of Stormin' Norman from rattles to Riyadh.