Robert Charles Kingston – General, United States Army

Robert Kingston; 1st Chief of U.S. Central Command

Robert C. Kingston, 78, an Army General and highly decorated combat veteran who served in the early 1980s as the first chief of U.S. Central Command, which deploys ground, sea and air units to the Middle East, died February 28, 2007 at Ruxton Health Care of Alexandria, Virginia, a nursing home. He had complications from a fall at his home in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.


General Kingston, who spent more than 36 years in the Army, served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and held command positions in the Rangers and Special Forces. In 1981, he became Commanding General of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, a predecessor of Central Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

The task force started in 1980 after the Iranian Revolution and was also used to discourage the Soviets, then occupying Afghanistan, from moving farther into the Persian Gulf region. At the time, the task force was responsible for 19 countries from the Horn of Africa to Afghanistan.

General Kingston received his fourth star when he took over the newly named Central Command in January 1983. Central Command, also based at MacDill, became an equal of the five other unified joint military commands throughout the world and had 300,000 active-duty personnel under its watch when General Kingston retired in late 1985.

Robert Charles Kingston was born July 16, 1928, in Brookline, Masschusetts, and joined the Army at 18. He graduated from what is now the University of Nebraska at Omaha and received a master's degree in foreign relations from George Washington University. He also graduated from the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

He came to prominence in the military in late 1950, when he was a 22-year-old Second Lieutenant placed in command of a small rifle platoon in Korea and led an advance movement toward the Yalu River at the Chinese border.

Despite harsh weather and terrain and constant enemy fire, General Kingston maintained operational command of a task force that eventually had more than 100 men, including senior officers. He successfully guided his group near the Yalu even though his hand-drawn map, made on transparent paper, didn't show the last 23 miles of the trip.

On a second tour of duty, he commanded a waterborne raider detachment that conducted covert missions, and he subsequently became a Ranger instructor at Fort Benning in Georgia.

He was a military adviser and battalion commander in Vietnam before taking command of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in 1969. Afterward, he helped start and then commanded the Joint Casualty Resolution Center, based in Vietnam and then Thailand, to look for prisoners of war and troops missing in action in Southeast Asia.

From 1975 to 1977, he commanded what is now the Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, where Green Beret tactics and doctrine are developed. He became an early champion of creating Delta Force, an elite special operations unit.

In the late 1970s, he was chief of staff for the United Nations Command in Seoul and was commanding general of the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea on the demilitarized zone bordering North Korea.

His decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, two awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Silver Star and four awards of the Legion of Merit. He was also inducted into the Ranger, Command and General Staff College halls of fame.

After his military retirement, he did consulting work for McDonnell Douglas Corp. and helped start Military Professional Resources Inc., a defense contractor known as MPRI.

General Kingston earned the nickname “Barbwire Bob” as a company commander at Fort Bragg early in his career when he rolled concertina wire across a plot of new grass and put up a sign reading: “You will stay off the grass.”

His wife of 36 years, Josephine Cody “Jo” Kingston, died in 1992.

Survivors include two children, George R. Kingston of Atlanta and Leslie M. Reiman of the Alexandria section of Fairfax County; a brother, retired Navy Captain John Kingston of Virginia Beach; and two granddaughters.

Retired General Robert C. Kingston, a pioneer of special operations from the Korean War to the early 1980s, will be buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kingston died February 28, 2007, at Ruxton Health Care of Alexandria, a nursing home, of complications from a fall at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, the Washington Post reported. He was 78.

Kingston was one of the few people to rise from Private to four-star General. He received the military’s second-highest award for valor and also helped form the command that now oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

“As a soldier, he was second to none,” said retired Colonel Ola Lee Mize, who received the Medal of Honor in the Korean War and served with Kingston.

Kingston commanded the John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance at Fort Bragg when the groundwork was being laid for the creation of Delta Force to give the U.S. Army a counterterrorist capability.

“It was under his purview that they stood up Delta here at Bragg,” said retired Lieutenant General William P. Tangney.

“He was in communication with the chief of staff of the Army on an almost daily basis for putting that thing together. He bears a lot of the responsibility for what that organization ultimately became.”

During the 1970s, terrorist incidents and airline hijackings were increasing worldwide, but the United States lacked a counterterrorist force. Colonel Charlie Beckwith wanted to form an organization in the U.S. Army along the lines of the British SAS, the Special Air Service. Kingston led the charge with the Army hierarchy.

“If it hadn’t been for him, there really would never been no Project Delta,” Mize said. “He was the one that broke open the doors and all. It was Charlie’s idea.”

Three decades later, the United States is waging a war against terrorists, and the forces that Beckwith and Kingston help bring into the Army are at the front of the fight.

Kingston’s nickname was “Barbwire Bob.’’

“I don’t know how he ever got that nickname ‘Barbwire,’ and everybody always thought he was so bad and mean,” Mize said. “I never seen him raise his voice to nobody.”

The Washington Post reported that Kingston got the label as a company commander at Fort Bragg when he rolled concertina wire across a plot of new grass and put up a sign reading: “You will stay off the grass.”

Kingston enlisted in the Army in November 1948. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in December 1949 through Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Riley, Kansas. The Korean War broke out in 1950, and Kingston participated in the September 15, 1950, Inchon landing on Korea’s west coast.

“He really earned his reputation in the Army when he was a Lieutenant,” Tangney said.

He led Task Force Kingston in northern Korea in November 1950.

“He took a task force well beyond where his original objective and well into enemy territory up to the Yalu River,” Tangney said. “There was no other supporting forces and no maps or charts that got him there.”

The CIA recruited him to return to Korea with the Far East Command Special Mission Group to train Koreans in waterborne raids on North Korea’s east coast.

‘‘I was the only American to go ashore,’’ Kingston recalled during a visit to Fayetteville in 1995. ‘‘We did things like blow up bridges and blow up trains inside tunnels.’’

He went on “documentation raids,” he said.

‘‘We would hit a small house on the edge of a village, and we would take all the occupants, and we would take their documentation with us so we could copy that documentation and send people we wanted back into North Korea,” he said. “At the time, I thought it was great fun.’’

In 1966, Kingston was a senior adviser to the Vietnamese Ranger Command. The next year, he worked for MAC-V-SOG, the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group. The group performed highly classified missions across the Vietnamese border.

From 1979 to 1981, he led the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. In 1981, he became commanding general of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, a predecessor of Central Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

Retired Major General William F. Garrison said during a speech in 1995 that Kingston laid the foundation for U.S. Central Command and U.S. success in the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

‘‘It was from the way that he started the command and the way he organized the command that enabled General (Norman) Schwarzkopf to be able to be as successful as he was,’’ Garrison said. ‘‘He truly has never received credit for that.’’

After his military retirement, he did consulting work for McDonnell Douglas Corp. and helped start Military Professional Resources Inc., a defense contractor known as MPRI, the Washington Post reported.


On Wednesday, February 28, 2007. Husband of the late Josephine R. Kingston; father of George R. Kingston of Atlanta, GA and Leslie M. Reiman and her husband, Larry Reiman of Alexandria, VA. Brother of John J. Kingston of Virginia Beach, VA. Also survived by two grandchildren, Roberta J. and Laura N. Reiman of Alexandria, Virginia.

Funeral services with full military honors will be held at Fort Myer Memorial Chapel on Friday, March 23, 2007 at 9 a.m. Interment to follow at Arlington National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Special Forces Association, PO Box 41436, Fayetteville, North Carolina 28309.

Lieutenant Colonel (Infantry), U.S. Army
Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division
Date of Action: November 22, 1966


The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Robert C. Kingston, Lieutenant Colonel (Infantry), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Headquarters, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, 3d Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.

Lieutenant Colonel Kingston distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions during the period 22 November 1966 to 24 November 1966 while commanding elements of the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Division on a search and destroy mission.

When two of his companies made contact with the forward positions of a Viet Cong battalion, Colonel Kingston landed by helicopter and assumed control of ground operations. In the evening of 22 November 1966 when the lead company was pinned down by intense automatic weapons fire, Colonel Kingston, with complete disregard for his safety, charged a wounded Viet Cong and wrestled a weapon from him. While firing the captured weapon, he then led an assault on the hostile positions and forced the insurgents to flee.

Throughout the three day period, Colonel Kingston repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire, to encourage his troops and direct air strikes and artillery against the Viet Cong emplacements. His aggressive leadership and personal courage inspired his men to fight with renewed vigor and defeat the numerically superior hostile force. Colonel Kingston's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

DATE OF BIRTH: 07/16/1928
DATE OF DEATH: 02/28/2007

DATE OF BIRTH: 01/05/1924
DATE OF DEATH: 07/11/1992


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