Major General Harrell officially retired as the Deputy Commanding General, United States Army Special Operations Command on 1 July 2008. MG Harrell’s distinguished career began when he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on 7 December 1973 upon graduation from East Tennessee State University. His initial assignment was to the 2nd Bn., 508th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, NC where he served as a Rifle Platoon Leader and Anti-Tank (TOW) platoon leader.
In January 1977, after completing the Special Forces Qualification Course, he was assigned to the 3rd Bn., 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Ft. Gulick, Panama. He served as Commander of an SFOD-A, SCUBA Team, and Commander of the first CINC, INEXTREMIS Assault Team. MG Harrell was again assigned to the 82nd Abn. Div. in September of 1980. He assumed command of Co. C, 1st Bn., 505th Inf. in February 1981, and deployed as a member of the first multinational force to the Sinai Peninsula in the Spring of 1981. MG Harrell was assigned as the G3 Air, 82nd Abn. Div., and deployed to Grenada for Operation URGENT FURY. In April 1984, he was assigned as the Operations Officer, 2nd Bn., 10th Special Forces Group (Abn.), Ft. Devens, MA.
In December 1985 MG Harrell was assigned to 1st SFOD-D, (Delta Force) Ft. Bragg, NC as a Troop Commander. While in the unit he participated in Operation JUST CAUSE. His troop performed the first successful Hostage Rescue by snatching a US Citizen, Kurt Muse, who had been held captive in Modelo Prison by Noreiga’s forces just prior to the commencement of the main US invasion of Panama. MG Harrell was the only officer to actually enter the Modello Prison during the rescue operation.
In March 1991, MG Harrell was assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command as the Army Special Operations Action Officer. He participated in Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.
In April 1992, he assumed command of C Squadron, 1st SFOD-D and deployed to Columbia, where he led forces in operations against Drug Lord Pablo Escobar, in support to the Government of Columbia. This operation later culminated in Escobar’s death at the hand of Columbian authorities. His next combat deployment was to Somalia for operations in support of UNOSOM II. In Somalia, he was the Ground Force Commander for combat operations that a portion of which were later depicted in the book and subsequent movie known as Blackhawk Down. On 9 October 1993 he was severely wounded by enemy mortar fire and evacuated to the US where he began a long recovery process. He was assigned as the Deputy Commander, SFOD-D, in June 1995. MG Harrell commanded 1st SFOD-D from July 1998 to July 2000 and participated in numerous combat operations with SFOD-D.
In July 2000, he assumed duties as Director, Joint Security Directorate (JSD), U.S. Central Command. As the JSD, he was responsible for all US Security operations within the 26 country CENTCOM area of operations, one of the most dangerous operational areas in the world. These responsibilities included the following mission requirements: personal security detail that guarded the CENTCOM Commander, security forces guarding our US Embassies, the security for every American base or outpost, security for every American ship that made a port call in the AOR (Area Of Responsibility), inspection and updates for every security plan in the AOR. The JSD was responsible to insure that US soldiers and civilians were safe from attack. In response to the attack on the USS COLE, he deployed to Aden, Yemen where he was responsible for all CENTCOM Security Operations and support to the United States Ambassador to Yemen in the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attack. His actions provided safety for the surviving crewmembers and investigators who arrived to conduct the post explosion investigation.
In October 2001, MG Harrell formed the USCENTCOM Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (JIATF). This specially formed task force combined the efforts of international and national agencies including the following:
Secret Service (SS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NYPD-Interagency Task Force. The JIATF coordinated these agencies in support of operations in the CENTCOM AOR.
He deployed the JIATF to Bagram, Afghanistan as the Commander of Task Force Bowie on November 25, 2001 and served as the Assistant Division Commander for the 10th Mountain Division during Operation ANACONDA. Operation Anaconda was one of the largest military operations ever conducted in the Shai-Khowt valley, long a Taliban and Al-Quaida stronghold. Operation ANACONDA accounted for more enemy losses in a few short weeks than had occurred in the previous decade.
MG Harrell assumed command of Special Operations Command Central, (SOCCENT) in July 2002. During Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, MG Harrell commanded the largest special operations forces assembled since World War II, consisting of over 20,000 personnel, who were responsible for combat operations to prevent SCUD launches from Western Iraq and stability operations in Northern Iraq. Under Harrell’s command, Special Forces teams were inserted into Iraq prior to the main invasion force and conducted stability operations, which enabled Coalition Forces to move quickly and effectively when actual combat operations began. Due to the intense Special Forces Operations, key Iraqi units were unable to move south to attack invading Coalition Forces.
In April 2005, he was assigned as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations/ Commander, deployable Joint Task Force, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Response Force, Brunssum, Netherlands, where he was responsible for NATO forces taking operational control of all of Afghanistan. He also lead the Deployable Joint Task Force on its first ever operational deployment to the austere environment in the Cape Verde islands off the West Coast of Africa where ground, special operations, naval and air forces honed their combat capabilities.
MG Harrell is a graduate of the Airborne Course, Ranger Course, Special Forces Underwater Operations Course, Military Free Fall Course, Pathfinder School, Military Free Fall Jumpmaster Course, Special Forces Qualification Course, Special Operations Training Course, the Armed Forces Staff College, and the U.S. Army War College.
His awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal (with V-device and 2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal (with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Joint Service Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Joint Service Achievement Medal, as well as numerous service and campaign medals. He has also earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Master Military Free Fall Parachutist Badge, Pathfinder Badge, SCUBA Diver Badge, Special Forces Tab, and Ranger Tab.
MG Harrell served as the Director General for King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) in Amman, Jordan from April 2009 to May 2012. KASOTC is a $200 million state of the art counter terrorism training center encompassing 26 square kilometers with a five story close quarter battle shooting house, full size AB300 training aircraft, state of the art shooting range and over sixty buildings all with full camera coverage. Training conducted at KASOTC consists of all aspects of operations from security to counter terrorism operations. The world’s most elite military and civilian counter terrorist operations units train at this facility.
MG Harrell served as the Senior Vice President of Special Operations and Intelligence Advisory Group for CUBIC Applications Inc. responsible for all Cubic interaction and coordination within the Special Operations community for Cubic Corp from Sep 2012 until Dec of 2015.
MG Harrell currently is an owner and CEO of the Harrell Group which specializes in non-linear strategies for international risk security solutions.