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2001 Distinguished Graduate Award

GEN Charles A. Gabriel '50

A distinguished Airman whose combat experience as a fighter pilot brought him acclaim in two wars; an outstanding commander, staff officer, and planner whose management skills were instrumental in maintaining the United States Air Force as the world’s preeminent air power through the trying days of the cold war; and a leader whose personality and positive approach brought about a major improvement in interservice relations during his tour as Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Charles Alvin Gabriel served his country with courage, integrity, and a consummate sense of duty over a professional career spanning nearly fifty years.
Born in North Carolina, Charlie Gabriel entered Catawba College in 1944 at age sixteen. In 1946 he was appointed to West Point, where he played four years of baseball, basketball, and football, winning his letter on Army’s undefeated 1949 football team. Lieutenant Gabriel was commissioned in the United States Air Force in 1950 and immediately reported to Luke Air Force Base for pilot training. Volunteering for combat, Lieutenant Gabriel was assigned to the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing for close support and interdiction missions against the North Korean and Chinese forces. When the opportunity came to fly F-86s against the Mig-15 of the enemy, he seized the chance. Before completing his Korean tour, Lieutenant Gabriel shot down two Mig-15 aircraft.
Upon completing his Korean tour, Charlie Gabriel was assigned to an F-86 squadron in Europe. His flying and leadership abilities were soon recognized, and he was appointed Squadron Operations Officer and group gunnery officer.
In 1955, Captain Gabriel was selected to be a tactical officer — Air Officer Commanding — at the newly established Air Force Academy. That four year tour was followed by attendance at the Naval War College, Command and Staff Course and graduate school at George Washington University, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Engineering Administration. The next three years were spent at Headquarters, U.S. Air Force.
In 1967, Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel graduated from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and was posted to NATO Headquarters as Executive Officer to the Chief of Staff.
In 1970, Colonel Gabriel returned from Europe, became combat ready in the F-4 aircraft, and then served as Vice Commander and later Commander of the large, composite wing at Udorn, Thailand. Because of its proximity to Hanoi, Haiphong and Northern Thailand, Colonel Gabriel’s wing was tasked for the most challenging combat missions. Colonel Gabriel led by example, flying more than 150 combat missions during his tour.
Returning to the United States, he was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned to the Air Staff. Three years later, Charlie Gabriel was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Tactical Air Command. Working closely with the Army Doctrine Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Pacific Air Forces, his objective approach to problem solving placed him at the forefront in successfully resolving competing service needs.
Major General Gabriel led his staff through the development and implementation of a new combat training system called “Red Flag.” For more than 20 years, Red Flag has prepared Air Force tactical units for combat, and its worth, abundantly proven during the Gulf War and the Balkans, is a lasting tribute to General Gabriel’s foresight, determination and leadership.
In 1977, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and assigned as Deputy Commander, U.S. Forces, Korea and Deputy Commander-in-Chief, UN Command, South Korea.
In 1979, General Gabriel assumed the duties of Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Plans and Readiness, USAF, and a year later he was appointed Commander, US Air Forces Europe and Allied Air Forces Central Europe.
In 1982, General Gabriel was named Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, a position he held until his retirement in 1986. He was the first fighter pilot selected to lead the Air Force.
As Chief of Staff, General Gabriel forged ties of cooperation and teamwork that ultimately produced 31 memoranda resolving major issues between the military services. These memoranda proved their effectiveness in the Gulf War and are still operative.
Throughout a military career that took him to the pinnacle of his profession, General Gabriel made lasting contributions to the Nation and the United States Air Force. Throughout a life of selfless dedication and devotion to his country, he epitomized the principles and ideals expressed in the West Point motto: Duty, Honor, Country.
Accordingly, the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy takes pride in presenting the 2001 Distinguished Graduate Award to Charles Alvin Gabriel.

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