James Brickel was born on September 18, 1930, in New York City, New York. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1948 and graduated with a commission as a 2d Lt in the U.S. Air Force on June 3, 1952. Brickel completed Undergraduate Pilot Training and was awarded his pilot wings at Foster AFB, Texas, in September 1953. After completing F-86 Sabre Combat Crew Training, he was assigned to the 49th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Dow AFB, Maine, and then at Hanscom Field, Massachusetts, from April 1954 to August 1957. Capt Brickel then completed graduate studies at the University of Michigan from September 1957 to September 1959, followed by service as a project officer with Headquarters Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, from September 1959 to May 1962. His next assignment was in Flight Crew Operations for NASA at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, where he served from May 1962 to November 1966. Col Brickel then served as an RF-101C Voodoo pilot, Operations Officer, and later Commander of the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from November 1966 to October 1967. He served as a staff officer with Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Pentagon from October 1967 to September 1969, and then as a staff officer on the National Aeronautics and Space Council from September 1969 to August 1970. Col Brickel attended National War College from August 1970 to August 1971, and then became Commander of the 21st Composite Wing at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, where he served from August 1971 to July 1972. Gen Brickel's next assignment was as Deputy Assistant for the Assistant Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon from July 1972 to June 1974, and then as Deputy Director of the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Information from June 1974 to March 1975. From March 1975 to July 1977, Gen Brickel served as Vice Commander of Air University and as Commandant of Air Force ROTC at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He then served as Director of Concepts in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Analysis, and Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development, and Acquisition at Headquarters U.S. Air Force from July 1977 to May 1981. Gen Brickel's final assignment was as Deputy Commander in Chief of U.S. Readiness Command and Vice Director of the Joint Deployment Agency at MacDill AFB, Florida, where he served from June 1981 until his retirement from the Air Force on September 1, 1984. Gen Brickel wears Command Pilot Wings and accumulated over 3,000 flying hours during his Air Force Career.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to James R. Brickel, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as a photo reconnaissance pilot of the 20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, SEVENTH Air Force, in action near Thai Nguyen, North Vietnam, on 10 March 1967. On that date, Colonel Brickel led a flight of two RF-101C photo reconnaissance aircraft on a bomb damage assessment mission against one of the most highly defended targets in North Vietnam. Despite a direct hit by an anti-aircraft artillery flak that extensively damaged his aircraft, Colonel Brickel continued to the target and acquired one hundred percent photographic coverage. He then made a successful withdrawal from hostile territory on a single engine and landed at his home base. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Lieutenant Colonel reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.