Profiles of Valor: God Bless You, Gary Harrell
Gary was a family man of strong faith, a highly respected leader of warriors, a fierce defender of American Liberty, a Patriot, and a friend.
Among warriors, the requisite sign off is “see ya later” rather than “goodbye.” However, the line distinguishing the two becomes less perceptible with age.
When I heard fellow East Tennessean Gary Harrell was severely ill 18 months ago, I had no doubt he would kick it and be back online. He has endured years of combat firefights that would test the mortality of the best — including his 1993 command as a Special Forces LTC in Mogadishu, Somalia, a battle later depicted in “Black Hawk Down.” He was severely wounded in Mogadishu, but Gary was a rock — and he recovered. Ironically he had previously almost met his end in a helicopter crash during operations in Panama.
His high school sweetheart, Jenny, his wife for the last 50 years, notes where his path into the Army began: “He always wanted to be in the military. When he was in high school, he was a junior, and ROTC came to present about how to get a scholarship, which he thought sounded better than going to math class. That fascinated him. He applied, and the rest is history.”
After graduation from East Tennessee State University, Gary became a rifle and anti-tank (TOW) platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After completing his SF qualifications amd earning his Ranger tab, he joined 7th Special Forces Group, commanding an SFOD-A, SCUBA Team and the first CINC, INEXTREMIS Assault Team. He served multiple billets with the 82nd, then as 1st SFOD-D, (Delta Force) at Ft. Bragg. In his leadership roles with Joint Special Operations Command, Gary served in both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Then he deployed to Columbia with C Squadron, 1st SFOD-D for operations against drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. From Columbia, it was to Somalia as Ground Force Commander for operations there, including the “Battle of Mogadishu.”
I wrote in 2020 about two Delta Force snipers, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart, both killed in that battle, and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Gary started the nomination process for their valorous actions and I encourage you to read the Gordon and Shughart citations.
More specifically, I wrote about the desecration of MSG Gordon’s gravesite at the time an ungrateful Somalian refugee, Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (D-MN), was spewing her anti-American and anti-Semitic hatred. Omar was rescued from the Somalian civil war at age 11 — after Gordon and Shughart were killed defending Somalian refugees like her against terrorist warlords. The stark contrast between the valor of the Americans who served in Somalia, and Islamist refugee Omar, who immigrated to the U.S. and eventually was elected to Congress, defies all reason and comprehension.
After a long and difficult recovery from his Mogadishu wounds, Gary was promoted to Deputy Commander, SFOD-D. In the rubble of the 9/11 Islamist attack on our nation, he formed the USCENTCOM Joint Inter-Agency Task Force coordinating efforts among the National Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Secret Service. In that capacity, he deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan, a month after the attack with Operation Enduring Freedom, where he served with the 10th Mountain Division during Operation ANACONDA against Taliban/al-Qa'ida terrorists.
As commander of Special Operations Command Central, he deployed with Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he led the largest special operations force since World War II. In 2005, he was assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations/Commander, NATO. He would retire at age 57 in 2008 as Deputy Commanding General, United States Army Special Operations Command, after almost 35 years serving in every post-Vietnam combat operation – from Grenada to Afghanistan. At the time, Gary observed: “I was planning on getting out as a captain! I’ve had the privilege of working with and commanding some of the finest soldiers we have in the military.”
(A footnote about Somalia: Gary played defensive tackle at East Tennessee State University, and at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, a fighting frame he maintained for much of his career, he was a freight train. Thus we found it humorous that the actor who portrayed him in Black Hawk Down, was a man of slight build – not well typecast!)
Through his years serving our nation, Gary was awarded many decorations but he was one of those most respected operators who was humble to his core. He had achieved remarkable feats that could only be whispered – and that was fine with him.
Moreover, Gary was a loving husband and devoted father – a family man of impeccable character and infectious faith. Jenny says, “He was a strong Christian patriot who loved his country and would’ve done anything for his country, until the day he died.” That is humbly understated. Gary spoke proudly of his children and grandchildren, saying, “I’m more proud of being their father and grandfather than I am of retiring as a two-star general.”
Anyone who knew him, and certainly those who served with him, thought he would charge right through the century mark, guns blazing. But Gary, a fellow National Medal of Honor Heritage Center board member for years, retired to eternity at age 71 after an 18-month battle against his toughest enemy.
On his passing, Jenny concluded: “He loved life. He loved people. He fought the good fight. He battled to the very end.”
Gary was a highly respected leader of warriors, a fierce defender of American Liberty, a Patriot, and a friend. We offer a final salute and farewell to Gary today, but his legacy is eternal. See ya later Gary.
Join us in prayer that God Bless and Keep his family.
Memorial gifts can be made to Task Force Dagger Foundation in honor of MG Harrell. TFG supports wounded or ill USSOCOM operators and their families. You can support the foundation online or by check to:
Task Force Dagger Special Operations Foundation, PO Box 250, Terra Ceia, FL 34250
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
Join us in prayer for our Patriots in uniform and their families — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen — standing in harm’s way, and for our nation’s First Responders. As part of our Military Mission of Service, The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust are proud sponsors of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Folds of Honor, Honoring the Sacrifice, Warrior Freedom Service Dogs, Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, the Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation.
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