By Lira Frye, Contributing Writer – Director, Public Affairs, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command
The man behind Army space and missile defense never expected to make the Army a career when he applied to the U.S. Military Academy.
Lt. Gen. Daniel L. Karbler, commanding general of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) and the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, was looking for an inexpensive way to get an education.
“My parents had put my two older sisters through college, and I didn’t want to put any financial burden on them,” he said. “West Point was free, guaranteed a job after graduation, and paid you while you were there.”
To Karbler, that sounded like a great deal. Intending to complete a five-year commitment, he started his military career in 1987 when he commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Defense Artillery branch following his graduation from West Point.
The Hartland, Wisconsin, native’s first assignment took him to Germany, followed by a deployment to Israel supporting Operation Desert Storm. That experience changed the course of his career.
“I saw how the Patriot missile system worked, and it was phenomenal,” he said. “I loved what I was doing. This was combat, and I was hooked.”
It was then Karbler said he decided to stay as long as the Army would keep him.
Today, Karbler, the Army’s senior air defender and space operations expert, leads a team that develops and provides cuttingedge space, missile defense and high altitude capabilities for the warfighter and space and missile defense forces for the Army and the joint force.
“At no other time in my 32-plus years in the Army has this command been more relevant,” said Karbler. A
t SMDC, Karbler leads roughly 2,800 Soldiers and civilians who perform missions in 23 locations across 11 time zones around the world, even aboard the International Space Station.
“The talent pool that I see, and the dedication of the SMDC team is so incredible,” he said. “Our agile, innovative and empowered Soldiers and civilians are the heart of our team.”
Karbler’s journey from platoon leader to commanding general provided multiple opportunities to lead and to serve in key positions. He credits his success to the foundation he received from family and friends in Wisconsin.
“My parents taught me about hard work, humility, the importance of family, competition, and faith,” he said. “They were awesome role models: fair, firm and fun.”
He also had countless mentors: teachers, Army officers, noncommissioned officers and civilians who provided him with great examples to follow. Their examples contributed to Karbler’s own vision of a good leader, one who shows common sense, approachability, a willingness to listen, job proficiency, a sense of humor and genuine care and concern for people.
“They always took time to teach, coach and mentor me,” he said. “They also taught me the importance of maintaining relationships, in fact, many of the friendships I forged at West Point are still going strong 37 years later.”
Choosing military service runs in Karbler’s family. His wife, Leah, served as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years, and his daughter, Lauren, is on track to graduate in May from West Point, when she will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Defense Artillery. Karbler’s son, Tim, also plans to serve in the military. He has received appointments to the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and has been accepted to Notre Dame with a four-year Army ROTC scholarship.
Karbler’s career has taken him across the globe including multiple deployments to the Middle East; assignments to Texas, Oklahoma, Maryland, Nebraska, and Washington, D.C.; and finally to Huntsville, whose atmosphere made an impression on Karbler and his family.
“Huntsville is great!” Karbler said. “It has a small town feel with big town amenities.”
But more important than its amenities, Karbler said, is how Huntsville welcomes military families.
“The best example I can provide is how Huntsville High School accepted our son, Tim,” he said. “It’s always hard to move to a new school, more so when it’s your senior year, but Tim said he’s made better friends here than at his previous high schools.
“Huntsville and Team Redstone provided us such a warm welcome and made us feel part of the community,” he said. “That sums up Huntsville for us.”
This article appears in the April 2020 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.