Posted: Aug. 16, 2006


Richard S. Gebelein has retired from the Delaware Army National Guard, ending a long military career that shattered the routines of a state judge when a call-up to Afghanistan in 2004 led to international recognition and an appointment to a court in Bosnia.

Gebelein, who often seems unflappable to the point of sleepiness, took a whirlwind of life changes in stride and will be home to celebrate it all with fellow Guard members, family and friends at at ceremonial dinner on Friday, Sept. 8, at the Hockessin Memorial Hall.

Gebelein, 60, officially retired in June after 26 years, rising to be a colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. Since he left the state Superior Court a year ago for Bosnia, his contacts with the Delaware Guard have been limited, although a number of colleagues got to see him in June when he was asked to speak at the United Nations at a forum on International Humanitarian Law and Peacekeeping Operations.

"He got involved in international law because of his Guard duties," said Lt. Col. Kemp Vye of the Guard's JAG office. "Rich's speech at the UN was really good. He had so much personal knowledge. It wasn't just a canned brief."

Gebelein's military service coincided with his public life. He joined at about the same time he was elected to a four-year term as a Republican attorney general in 1978. He lost a race for re-election but was appointed a judge in 1984, and there he stayed until a senior JAG officer was needed to work on establishing the rule of law in Afghanistan in the nation-building that began after the fighting against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

After eight months on active duty, Gebelein returned to the Superior Court, but as it turned out, his call-up had become a calling in nation-building, and he accepted an appointment to a tribunal dealing with war crimes and organized crime in Bosnia & Herzegovina in the aftermath of ethnic strife that ravaged the former Yugoslavia.

Gebelein expects to end his appointment, which began in September 2005, by the end of the year.

Throughout his international endeavors, he has sent e-mail home, sharing glimpses of the rewards and challenges of a newly cosmopolitan life. Anyone wanting to hear Gebelein himself talk about it is welcome at his retirement dinner, although seating is limited. Reservations at $35 are available from the Guard by calling 326-7011 or 326-7008 by Aug. 29.

In the meantime, here is Gebelein's latest e-mail, written Monday. It begins with his observations at "To Be," a favorite restaurant that used to be called "To Be or Not to Be," reflecting the resignation in Sarajevo as the city was being shelled, but changed when the bombing stopped. Gebelein writes:

"Last night I was having an early dinner at the restaurant 'To Be,' which I had discussed in my last letter. It was a beautiful evening, clear and about 62 degrees F, and I was using one of the two tables set up in the small street. The previous evening when I had gone to sleep it was about 98 degrees, but that is Sarajevo.

"During dinner I was approached by a gentleman, probably about 60 years of age and wearing a sports jacket. He was selling what appeared to be North Korean radios for 5 KM or about $3. I declined. A few minutes later it was a small Roma child asking for “Pola Maraka” half a Mark, or about 25 cents. Again I declined, because to give anything is an invitation to the other children waiting at the end of the block. I’ve made that mistake before.

"I saved my coins for the double-amputee war veteran who frequently is on the Ferhedija. He is a very quiet and dignified man; with unemployment at 40 percent for healthy people and with a disability pension of about $20 per month, he can use the few Marks. He is a stark reminder of why we are here, and what the stakes are should this state fail. 

"August is supposed to be a slow month at the State Court. Most of the national judges are on vacation for the month, and many of the international judges are also away. That means that most of the trials will resume at the end of the month when the full panels will be here.

"Of course, that makes the few of us who are here very popular. It still requires a judge’s approval for any visits to detentioners, and that includes by their lawyers. Likewise, a court order is required for trips to the doctor, dentist, etc. Custody reviews for all detentioners must be done in a timely manner, and then their appeals must be heard within 72 hours. Search warrants must be issued and returned. A search warrant return Thursday included live ordnance and explosives that no one wanted to keep in the court building overnight. So while trials are on hold there is still plenty to keep us busy. 

"On Friday morning about 4 a.m., I awoke startled. I was not sure why, and after a few minutes went back to sleep. Later as I left for work, I noticed that the cemetery about 300 yards from my apartment was crawling with police and was circled with crime scene tape. Later on Friday, I found out that what had awakened me was a bomb at the tomb of Alija Isetbegoviæ, the first president of Bosnia & Herzegovina. The bomb did little damage but was again a reminder that tensions are high before elections in October. 

"On the lighter side, when they were doing some work on the court parking lot, they uncovered some artillery shells. The court building had previously been a barracks for the Yugoslav National Army and was used as a site for shelling the city during the siege. They turned out to be spent shells, but they started smoking when uncovered, causing a partial evacuation. Apparently they had still retained some phosphorus that reacted to the oxygen and rain water. 

"I am looking forward to visiting home in early September and my formal retirement from the Delaware National Guard. It will be good to see old friends."