A fixture in the Special Operations Forces community for decades, Major General (retired) Gary Harrell has recently succumbed to a lengthy battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, at the age of 71. He will be buried in Mountain View National Cemetery on Monday, February 20th, 2023. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has ordered flags over the State Capitol and state office buildings to be flown at half-staff in his honor.

Harrell during one of his many deployments. Location not noted. Photo courtesy of the United States Army

The general got his start in the military as part of East Tennessee State University’s ROTC program, where he graduated and received his commission in the United States Army in 1973. Harrell stayed in the Army he loved until finally retiring in 2008 as a Major General with 35 years of service. During that time, he served in combat operations in Panama, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, to name but a few.

Harrell’s first assignment was to the 2nd Bn., 508th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, where he served as a TOW (anti-tank) Platoon Leader and Rifle Platoon Leader. In 1977, the ambitious young officer completed the Special Forces Qualification (or “Q”) Course and was sent to the 3rd Bn., 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Ft. Gulick, Panama. Following the invasion of Grenada, Harrell served with the 10th Special Forces Group.

In 1985, he volunteered for and successfully completed training to become part of  1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), a unit more commonly referred to as “Delta Force.”  During Operation Just Cause, Harrell was the only officer to enter the Modelo Prison in Panama during a mission to rescue American hostage Kurt Muse. While commanding Squadron C of 1st SFOD-D in April 1992, he led his men in numerous missions against Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.