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

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007

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 Feb. 28 at Ruxton Health Care of Alexandria, a nursing home. He had complications from a fall at his home in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

Gen. 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.

Gen. 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 Gen. Kingston retired in late 1985.

Robert Charles Kingston was born July 16, 1928, in Brookline, Mass., 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, Gen. 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.

Gen. 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 Capt. John Kingston of Virginia Beach; and two granddaughters.

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