Charles A. Gabriel

NO. 17630  •  21 Jan 1928 - 4 Sep 2003

Died in Arlington,VA 
Interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington,VA

GEN Charles Alvin Gabriel’s death signifies the end of an era in both West Point and Air Force histories. With no West Point graduates now serving as Air Force generals, GEN Gabriel may be the last West Pointer to complete a term as the Air Force Chief of Staff.

His military career began with unexpected publicity in 1946. President Truman received a letter from the football coach at Catawba College, claiming he had caught Blaike’s assistant coach, Herman Hickman, "red?handed, stealing football players." Hickman had lured Charlie Gabriel to West Point under the pretense that he was "good officer material." The Catawba coach continued, "Hickman isn’t fooling anybody. It’s obvious the only reason he wants the boy is because of his athletic ability." The Catawba coach was right about Charlie’s athletic ability. Charlie had entered Catawba College at 16 and, the following year, broke conference passing records and was named Small College All-American. But Hickman certainly did not exaggerate when he stated Charlie was good officer material.

Cadet Gabriel disclosed the personality and broad?based talent that forecast future success. Despite playing varsity football, basketball, and baseball, Charlie always found enough time for academics to remain in the top half of his class. But most important was his leadership style, nurtured while at West Point. Throughout his career, he consistently built team spirit and solved difficult problems by encouraging others to do their best in a positive, cooperative way.

LT Gabriel was assigned to fly F-51's in the Korean War. After flying many close support and interdiction missions, the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing was converted to F-86s. Gabriel shot down two MIG-15s before completing 100 missions. He then volunteered for Germany, where the next three years were spent performing career-broadening duties not available in combat.

While Gabriel was in Europe, President Eisenhower secured the foundation of the Air Force Academy. His goal was to instill West Point standards, ethics, and discipline in USAFA graduates. Entering cadets needed face-to-face leadership, and CPT Gabriel was one of the few chosen for this important task. Throughout his career, GEN Gabriel retained an active interest in the Air Force Academy. He never forgot West Point but remained proud of his strong ties with USAFA.

MAJ Gabriel graduated from the Naval War College, Command & Staff Program, in 1962. He then attained a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University, followed by three years in Studies and Analysis, Air Force Headquarters. LTC Gabriel graduated from the Industrial College o the Armed Forces in 1967 and then was transferred to NATO headquarters as executive to the Chief of Staff.

During 1971-72, COL Gabriel commanded the large composite wing at Udorn, Thailand. Because of its proximity to Hanoi and Northern Laos, this wing was often tasked for the most challenging assignments. He flew 152 combat missions and earned the respect and loyalty of all by leading the most difficult missions. Never one to brag, Gabriel typically credited successful missions to well-deserving younger officers.

Following promotion in 1972, BG Gabriel moved through several staff positions with ever-increasing responsibilities. The next generation of military leadership, typically colonels and brigadier generals in Viet Nam, were sorting out the true lessons to be learned from the Viet Nam War. As the deputy director of Air Force Operations, he became a key spokesman for Air Force positions. Assigned to Tactical Air Command Headquarters as DCS Operations, MG Gabriel led his staff through the successful development and implementation of "Red Flag" a new way to train tactical units under near?combat conditions. By working closely with the Army Doctrine Command, USAFE, and PACAF, he successfully resolved many competing requirements with his calm, objective approach to problem-solving.

His outstanding work at HQ TAG resulted in promotion to lieutenant general and assignment in 1977 as the deputy commander, U.S. Forces Korea and D-CINC, UNC. Working with Korean forces, he improved the command and control procedures for UNC forces. In 1979, he became the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, for Plans and Readiness. This was a difficult period. Money was short and so were tempers. The Joint Chiefs were torn between supporting their services and supporting policies that often ignored service needs. His objective manner and experience in joint operations were instrumental in resolving inter-service arguments during those troubled times.

In July 1980, GEN Gabriel assumed command of USAFE and Allied Air Forces in central Europe. He was the first USAFE commander to have combat and command experience in both the Korean and Viet Nam wars. His impressive credentials were readily accepted at all levels within USAFE and NATO. He persuasively advocated the case for spectacular new developments in air weaponry, such as precision guided munitions.

GEN Gabriel became the Air Force Chief of Staff in 1982. Money was now available to rebuild the deteriorating infrastructure and increase pay. Air Force morale soared. Because GEN Gabriel was a fighter pilot, some were concerned that he would focus on tactical aviation to the detriment of strategic, airlift, and space demands. Surprising many observers, he announced his first priority would be modernizing strategic forces after years of neglect. His reputation as a healer was quickly perceived throughout the Air Force.

GEN Gabriel retired in 1986 after four very successful years as Chief of Staff His retirement years were active until a debilitating disease forced him into full retirement. His wife Dorothy; daughter Jane; son Charles, Jr.; and five grandchildren survive him.

To summarize a career as important and with as many achievements as GEN Gabriel's is difficult. Because his positive leadership rose above all lesser details, a biblical quote from the book of Luke may best describe his life: 'And the rough ways made smooth."

- Fellow airman and classmate Dick Leavitt