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Jonesborough High graduate shares stories of battle, triumph, Trump

U.S. Army Major General (Ret.) Gary Harrell shared stories and feelings with the Washington County Republican Women organization on Monday afternoon at the Carnegie Hotel.
U.S. Army Major General (Ret.) Gary Harrell shared stories and feelings with the Washington County Republican Women organization on Monday afternoon at the Carnegie Hotel.

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

With 34 years of military service under his belt and now serving as a member of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s Military Advisory Board, it seems that Army Major General (Ret.) Gary Harrell made the right decision when he decided to attend a meeting about the ROTC and ditch Mrs. Reed’s 5th period Algebra class at Jonesborough High School all those years ago.

Harrell, who retired in 2008, said he still doesn’t know what he missed during that particular period, but he has had a hand in crafting some of the major military operations in recent history. He shared some of his experiences and advice for the next election during a luncheon for the Washington County Republican Women at the Carnegie Hotel on Monday afternoon.

“I was glad I made that decision,” Harrell said with a smile after he gave a speech to the crowd. “She was a great algebra teacher; that just wasn’t my favorite subject.”

During the meeting, chants of “lock her up” filled the ballroom of the hotel room for a few seconds in reference to Hillary Clinton, but Harrell tempered the crowd with his wishful comments that the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would make a speedy recovery after her pneumonia diagnosis.

Harrell said that he met both Clinton and Trump before he decided to support Trump’s run for the White House. He was one of the original dozen on Trump’s Military Advisement Board — now ballooned into 88 retired generals and admirals who have all signed a letter in support of Trump.

The Washington County native was one of those signatures and he said that he supported the Republican nominee because the “military is upside down.

“We are at war with ISIS and we need to act like it,” he continued. “We aren’t treating the threat like it should be treated.”

When it comes to the military, Harrell is considered an expert, as his decorated military career indicates.

Harrell attended East Tennessee State University and received the first four-year ROTC scholarship granted by the school. He was also a  walk-on the ETSU football team as a 6-foot-1, 240-pound defensive tackle. After he graduated from the university in 1973, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Ten years later, he got his first taste of war as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division during the 1983 Grenada invasion.

Since then, he was part of the team that rescued U.S. Hostage Kurt Muse from a Panamanian jail in 1989, helped hunt down Pablo Escobar, searched for mobile Iraqi Scud during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, served as special forces ground commander who helped monitor the fight from the command and control center during the Battle of Mogadishu — which is more widely known for the movie Black Hawk Down — and led what might be the largest special operations force in U.S. history into combat during the second war in Iraq.

But Harrell doesn’t take all the credit for his accolades; he attributes them to the people that he encountered during his tenure.

“I was able to work with some of the most talented personnel that we have in the army,” Harrell said. “I had some great people that worked for me and that was key.”

And he thinks that his expertise of special operations is a vital part of the intelligence community.

“I think it is very important,” said Harrell of the special operations force. “But it is part of a military team and if you don’t have the teamwork there, then it is hard for one particular portion to be as successful.”

He was strong on his statement that the military is a team effort, as he said that “anyone that thinks that ‘Ah, we are the only ones that do anything right,’ is a fool.”

After having his boots on the ground in different places in the world, he decided to return to Washington County as homebase for he and his wife, Jennifer.

“I’ve been all over the world and there are no places that I found that are more beautiful,”

Harrell said. “I love the mountains and I love four seasons, and I grew up here. My wife (Jennifer) would have probably preferred the beach, but I tried to explain to her that the same thing happens on the beach every day; the tide goes out and then the waves come in.”

Even though he lives here, he is in constant contact with Trump and his team, having a face-to-face meeting within the last couple of days. He was present when Trump delivered a speech on his military and global strategies and when many thought Trump was showing displeasure with the current tactic handling of the armed forces, he said that the Republican nominee wasn’t trying to discredit the military officers, but their commander-in-chief.

“(Trump) is not talking about the generals, he is talking about the administration that is not listening to the advice that they are getting from these guys,” Harrell said.

During the meeting the Washington County Republican Woman announced that their chapter had grown from 20-something members to over 126.