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Robert Kingston, 78; general was 1st U.S. Central Command chief

March 05, 2007|Adam Bernstein | Washington Post

Robert Kingston, 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 Wednesday at the Ruxton Health Care nursing home in Alexandria, Va. He had complications from a fall at his home in Fairfax County, Va. He was 78.

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, Fla.

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

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 Kingston retired in late 1985.

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

He came to prominence in the military in late 1950, when he was a 22-year-old second lieutenant 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, 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 route.

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

He was a military advisor and battalion commander in Vietnam before taking command of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina in 1969. Later, 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 Ft. Bragg, where Green Beret tactics and doctrine are developed. He became an early champion of creating the 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 Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars and four Legion of Merit awards. He was also inducted into the Ranger and Command and General Staff College halls of fame.

Survivors include two children, George Kingston of Atlanta and Leslie Reiman of Fairfax County; a brother, retired Navy Capt. John Kingston of Virginia Beach; and two granddaughters.

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