Posted: March 14, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Richard S. Gebelein will be coming home in April, ending a call-up to active duty that turned him from a Superior Court judge in Wilmington to an army colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in Afghanistan. 

When Gebelein left last August, he expected to be gone a year, but along the way, his orders were changed. So has he. 

In his latest e-mail to Delaware Grapevine, Gebelein reflected on what he has missed, what he has seen and what he has learned. Naturally he is looking forward most to returning to his family, his wife Jerri and their children. 

He noted, “I hope to be able to make up a bit for all the extra efforts that they have had to make so that this has worked out. Jerri has had to be both Mom and Dad, organizer and business manager for too long. Zak and next year Sacha will be graduating from college. I need to spend time with them as they develop their plans for the future.” 

Gebelein intends to go back to the Superior Court and to remain in the National Guard. He is not sure exactly when he will get home, because it depends on the arrival time of his replacement, a National Guard colonel from Kansas, but he expects to leave Kabul in mid-April. 

Here is what Gebelein wrote from his e-mail address at

“I have had wonderful support from the Guard family during this deployment. Major General Francis D. Vavala has done an excellent job in keeping his far-flung troops tied into Delaware and the Guard family. It is much more exciting to be deployed like this, and much harder to keep the Guard ready and prepared at home to meet any emergency that might arise. The staff back in Delaware deserves a lot of credit. 

“What will I remember forever about Afghanistan? I will never forget the people. They are a blend of fierce warrior and genteel host. They may have absolutely nothing but they will offer to share a weak cup of chai. I will remember the guard getting paid $30 a month insisting that I share his tea and candy on a cold December night when we were pulling watch during a heightened security period. 

“Whether of high status or no status, they act the same toward the person they meet. They take time to greet each other and strangers. They inquire as to your health and your family's well-being, and they mean it. Many are deeply religious and at prayer time will stop to pray. One photo taken by a special ops soldier shows Northern Alliance soldiers kneeling and praying during a battle. 

“They also can take lives, whether in war to drive out a foreign invader or in a family dispute involving honor. A young boy will take time out to lead several lost soldiers to an orphanage and pedal his bike over three miles to do it. Their hospitality is freely given to all. (This probably has hindered our efforts to catch Al Qaeda operatives.) 

“Are there things that I will do differently when I return? The answer to that is actually difficult. I am absolutely sure I have changed. Being here and witnessing the labor pains of a new democracy has given me a different sense of what is important. 

“Getting kids through a winter without freezing is more important than having a huge formal Supreme Court courtroom, something not yet built here. Convincing a prosecutor that a case should proceed in a civil court where the victim, a woman, can be present and participate is more important than writing a complicated new law. 

“Watching people vote for the very first time to elect their president, braving threats of brutality to do so, assures that I will exercise my right to vote in every election. I will probably worry much less about things that are out of my control. I will probably worry more about those things I can control and that impact on other people. 

“After living in a society that lacks many freedoms, I will not take our freedoms and our society for granted.”