Robert Beckel was born in January 1937 in Walla Walla, Washington. He entered the U.S. Air Force Academy's first class on July 11, 1955, and was commissioned a 2d Lt on June 3, 1959. Lt Beckel completed Undergraduate Pilot Training and was awarded his pilot wings at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, in June 1960, and he then completed jet fighter training at Luke AFB, Arizona, and Nellis AFB, Nevada, in July 1961. His first assignment was as an F-100 Super Sabre and then an F-105 Thunderchief pilot with the 9th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB, West Germany, from July 1961 to August 1965. After serving with the 560th Tactical Fighter Squadron at McConnell AFB, Kansas, from August to December 1965, Capt Beckel served as a solo pilot with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Aerial Demonstration Team from December 1965 to December 1967. He then deployed to Southeast Asia where he served as an F-100 pilot with the 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron and the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing at Phan Rang AB, South Vietnam, from December 1967 to December 1968. His next assignment was as an F-100 instructor pilot with the 4525th Fighter Weapons Wing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, from January to December 1969, followed by service as an F-105 project test officer with the 66th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis AFB from December 1969 to August 1970. Maj Beckel attended Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, from August 1970 to June 1971, and then served as a liaison officer with the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., from June 1971 to June 1972. He next served as chief aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon from June 1972 to August 1974, followed by the National War College from August 1974 to July 1975. Col Beckel served as vice commander of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California, from July 1975 to October 1976, and then as commander of the 100th Combat Support Group and commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing from October 1976 to August 1978. Gen Beckel next served as commander of the 410th Bomb Wing at K. I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan, from August 1978 to June 1979, followed by service as commander of 7th Air Division at Ramstein AB, West Germany, from June 1979 to February 1981. He served as commandant of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy from February 1981 to June 1982, and then served on the staff of Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Pentagon from June 1982 to September 1984. Gen Beckel served on the staff of Headquarters Strategic Air Command at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, from September 1984 to July 1987, and then served as deputy chairman of the NATO Military Committee with Headquarters North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels, Belgium, from July 1987 to February 1990. His final assignment was as commander of 15th Air Force at March AFB, California, from February 1990 until his retirement from the Air Force on June 1, 1992.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
Captain Robert D. Beckel distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-100D Fighter Pilot near Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam on 24 January 1968. On that date, Captain Beckel was scrambled from Phan Rang Air Base to strike a hostile artillery position shelling Khe Sanh. Despite marginal lighting, poor visibility, a highly restrictive run-in heading and extremely heavy antiaircraft fire, he delivered his ordnance with complete disregard for his own personal safety, precisely on the hostile position completely destroying it. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Captain Beckel has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.