Strategic leader prepares for next chapter

By Jason Cutshaw, USASMDCJanuary 4, 2024

Strategic leader prepares for next chapter
Lt. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, speaks with local media on Jan. 3 at the command's Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, headquarters. Karbler will retire on Jan. 9 after more than 36 years of military service in the U.S. Army. (U.S. Army photo by Jason B. Cutshaw) (Photo Credit: Jason Cutshaw) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – The sun will soon set on the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command senior leader’s career.

Lt. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, who commissioned in the Army in 1987, culminated his military service when he took command of USASMDC in December 2019. On Jan. 9 after more than 36 years of service, he will retire.

Karbler attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and said those four years decisively shaped his future.

“It’s not an overstatement at all to say you make friends for life when you go to West Point,” Karbler said. “You adore those four years of hardships. Everything from ‘Beast Barracks’ all the way up through graduation … that shared level of hardship creates a certain level of camaraderie that I just don’t think you find anywhere else. Those tie-backs to West Point are really important.”

Following graduation, Karbler was commissioned and branched into the Air Defense Artillery. Shortly thereafter he began working with the Patriot surface-to-air missile system. At that time, Patriot was a relatively new weapon system in the Army that had only been fielded five years prior.

“Patriot was the first digital battlefield weapons system,” Karbler said. “I remember as a cadet seeing the Patriot system at Fort Knox, Kentucky, seeing aircraft on the radar scope and seeing what the missiles could do. I thought that this is pretty awesome. When I saw the digitization that was taking place and what Patriot was able to do, it was very cool.

“I can remember talking to the (noncommissioned officers) as a cadet, and they were super smart and talented, and we find that still today within the air defense force,” he added. “The NCOs and Soldiers are very talented. They know their weapon system very well, and they know the technical side of it as well as the tactical side. Patriot and the Soldiers, NCOs and officers have all continued to evolve as the technology gets better.”

Karbler said Patriot’s use in combat during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 changed the Army’s perception of the system’s capabilities in both air defense as well as its future air and missile defense missions.

“The Patriot of today is vastly different from the Patriot of 1987. Its performance during the Gulf War put Patriot on the front page. We didn’t have a good appreciation of what Patriot could do until we saw how it performed during Desert Storm,” Karbler said. “That is where I got hooked on Patriot and hooked on staying in the Army by watching it perform in combat operations while in Israel defending Tel Aviv, Haifa, and other assets around Israel.”

During his career, Karbler said there were times he pondered leaving the service but followed his heart’s call to serve the nation.

“Every cadet thinks about getting out after serving their five years, and I was no different,” Karbler said. “But once Desert Storm hit and I got to see the business end of Patriot in combat, I was hooked. Then being able to lead Soldiers was a really awesome experience, and I just didn’t look back. I then said I am going to stay in the Army as long as what I do is enjoyable and the people I am working with are great. I have found both to be true for 36 years.”

With more than four decades of Army air defense systems becoming more dependent on space and space capabilities, Karbler said exposure to space capabilities changed his perspective on its influence on Army operations.

“Being exposed to Army space for the first time made me aware that space is a valuable contributor to not just Army missions but joint missions,” Karbler said. “Space, much like missile defense, is a strategic contributor. Space provides capabilities to entire theaters.”

Karbler said when he arrived at USASMDC, he was excited and humbled. For an air defense officer there is no higher level to command for air defenders than at USASMDC, and while he said he dreamt about it, he never really expected that honor. Because of the complex nature of the command, he knew he had a lot to learn. He said he takes pride in everything the organization has accomplished during his leadership.

“I am super proud of the fact that we’re the number one command in the Army to work at,” Karbler said.

USASMDC has the highest employee engagement index in the entire U.S. Army according to the Office of Personal Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Also, in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government’s May rankings based on 2022 scores, the command tied as the best command to work for in the Army.

“And we expect to keep that ranking in 2023," he added. "I am truly humbled and honored to be on the SMDC team and a part of the SMDC family.”

Karbler said he will miss most the camaraderie of the Soldiers and civilian family that makes the Army and USASMDC successful.

“Being around people fills my tank up, gives me energy and keeps me motivated to come into work every day,” Karbler said. “I will miss the people and watching them succeed. I will miss knowing that hopefully I had a little part in the success of somebody. I want my legacy to be about people working in SMDC who are happy they contributed and to be satisfied in what they are doing here. I see where we are at today and I think we have achieved what I wanted to happen four years ago.”

He said it was a privilege to serve with the USASMDC family, and he hoped he led the organization the right way and in a way that makes the teammates proud of the command.

“Thank you for accepting me and my leadership style. Thanks for allowing me to empower you to move out with the missions,” Karbler said “You have given me every reason in the world to trust you and support you. Whatever program, project or mission you are working on, everybody at SMDC, without fail, is an expert and professional in what they do. I have never worked with a more talented staff than the team I have at SMDC. At this three-star level command, you are a five-star staff.”

He said interactions with Department of the Army civilians increase as a service member rises in seniority and that civilians bring experience and continuity to the Department of Defense.

“The military rotates through a command every two-to-three years but our civilians stay on. They are the continuity, and they are the institutional knowledge for whatever program they are assigned,” Karbler said.

Throughout his career, he has served in numerous command and staff assignments, both overseas and in the continental United States, including Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Washington, D.C.; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Shafter, Hawaii; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska; and overseas in Germany, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Through all of those moves, Karbler said it was his wife, Leah, who anchored him and was his inspiration and foundation.

“Like every Army spouse out there, Leah is an incredible rock and anchor for our family,” Karbler said. “She never gets upset; she is calm, cool and collected. Her having served 26 years in the Air Force, both on active-duty and as a reservist as a nurse, has helped. She understands the demands. She accepts them, and she is a great, great loving wife and mom.”

To sum up what he has learned after 36 years of military service, Karbler said he would advise 1st Lt. Karbler to: “Be humble, be empathetic, be an expert in your craft, get along with people, use common sense, stay approachable, and Brett Favre will leave the Packers and play with the Jets. No matter how bad it gets, the sun always rises the next day, and you will be alright.”