Grugel oversaw STS growth, retires after 31 years

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Clayton Wear
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Chief Master Sgt. Karl Grugel, senior enlisted leader of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, concluded 31 years of distinguished military service during a retirement ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base here Dec. 10.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Wilkinson, retired, who presided over the ceremony as a former special tactics officer and assistant adjutant general of the Kentucky National Guard, praised Grugel for playing a vital role in establishing the 123rd STS after serving on active duty.

“Chief Grugel determinedly researched and attended dozens of bare-fisted conferences to bring together active, Guard and Reserve perspectives spanning Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations cultures,” Wilkinson said.

“He aggressively worked to establish a rescue capability and presence in Kentucky, forming relationships with local fire departments and emergency management leadership,” Wilkinson continued. “He melded rescue capabilities with our home C-130 tactical mobility airlift capabilities to push, pull and forge a marriage bringing rescue, jump master procedures and advanced rescue aircraft airdrop capabilities together.

“His efforts established a uniquely well rounded synchronization of special operations, guardian angel and tactical mobility operations into a seamless, seasoned capability that would be needed nationally and globally for decades to come.”

Wilkinson also called Grugel “visionary and tireless” for his work with the National Guard Bureau and Air Force Special Operations Command to establish a human performance program in the Kentucky squadron, and for validating the Air National Guard rescue jumpmaster qualification curriculum.

Maj. Hunter Williams, 123rd Special Tactics Squadron commander, praised Grugel for sage mentorship and hard work.

“Like an aircraft flying low levels to avoid radar, Chief Grugel has absolutely mastered the technique of tactical discretion,” Williams said. “He doesn't telegraph his punches or hype his actions with empty words. He quietly moves the chess pieces until ‘checkmate.’ Whether it's been growing this unit by over a third, securing mission-critical vehicles and equipment, greasing the skids for the first (search-and-rescue dog), or even making genuine and critical relationships on base and within the state to ensure this unit's freedom to maneuver, Chief has always made the big, enduring impacts.

Grugel entered the active-duty Air Force in 1991 as a bioenvironmental technician. He cross-trained into pararescue in 1993, serving at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for six years. In 1997, he joined the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th Rescue Squadron before moving to Kentucky in 2001 to help build the Kentucky Air Guard’s new 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.

The combat veteran has completed more than 150 rescue missions and is credited with saving 67 lives. He has deployed in support of Operations Northern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In 2005, he assisted in the evacuation of more than 11,000 citizens after New Orleans was devasted by Hurricane Katrina — the largest evacuation operation in U.S. history.

“Our enemy is always shifting,” Grugel told an audience of colleagues in his closing remarks. "We’re always coming up with new tactics, always using new equipment, and you guys are the steadfast constant in the global variable. This is what keeps us awesome, so thank you for what you guys do.

“I’d like to give a round of applause to all the operators. We’ve got (pararescuemen), controllers and recon guys. Keep doing what you're doing, focus, don't take your eye off the ball. The enemy’s coming, and we’ve got to watch what we're doing. Stay focused, keep training.”