Posted: July 19, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Superior Court Judge Richard S. Gebelein is about to trade his judicial robe for an army uniform in an assignment to Afghanistan, where he expects to be stationed for about a year.

Gebelein, who has been serving as the staff judge advocate in charge of the legal staff of the Delaware Army National Guard, will become the deputy staff judge advocate to the command in Afghanistan.

He said Monday he will be leaving Delaware on Aug. 14 to report to Fort Benning, Ga., and probably will be overseas by the end of the month. He learned of his assignment about a week ago, although he had heard earlier there was a need for someone with his experience to go.

For Gebelein, who is 58, this is the first time in nearly 24 years in the National Guard that he has been sent so far from home for so long. His longest stint away had been two weeks in Germany.

As a judge, Gebelein comes across in the courtroom as unruffled, and he is regarding his call-up the same way. "I had a feeling there was a possibility. My file was one of the ones they were looking at," he said. "When you sign up, you know that this could happen. You have to be ready."

What could happen, however, is not what usually does happen to the National Guard's legal personnel. Delaware Chief Justice Myron T. Steele called Gebelein's assignment "extraordinary," and he should know.

Steele also served in the National Guard, retiring as a colonel, the same rank as Gebelein now has. In addition, Steele has a daughter, an army captain, who recently returned after a year in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot.

"It reflects [Gebelein's] many years of experience," Steele said. "It's a pretty substantial assignment. In the army scheme, it's a meaningful position."

Gebelein's military career nearly parallels his public office. A Republican, he was elected to one term as attorney general in 1978, lost four year later and was appointed to the Superior Court in 1984.

Gebelein was expecting some changes in his life, but nothing of this magnitude. His promotion to colonel was official Saturday, and he also has a temporary promotion coming to him on the bench.

As the Superior Court judge with the longest tenure, Gebelein will fill in as the president judge beginning Thursday, when Henry duPont Ridgely, the current president judge, is sworn in as a Supreme Court justice.

Once Gebelein leaves, Judge John E. Babiarz Jr. as the next senior judge will take over the Superior Court until a new president judge is appointed by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and confirmed by the state Senate, probably in the fall.

Gebelein's departure will leave the Superior Court one judge short at a time when it not only needs a replacement for Ridgely but estimates it needs two new judges, bringing the total to 21, to handle an escalating workload.

"It does put Superior Court in a crunch, but like any other American business, we will do our job," Steele said. "This is just something we have to deal with."