Remembering an IAFIE Pioneer – Dr. Ronald D. Garst

by Dr. Bill Spracher, Vice President Emeritus

Dr. Ronald David Garst, the inaugural elected Chair (position now called President) of the International Association for Intelligence Education, passed away on June 15, 2023, following a stroke complicated by Parkinson’s disease. He was 81 years old and was residing with his wife, Dr. Marilyn Garst, in Durango, Colorado, following many years of service with the federal government and earlier as a professor at several universities.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, nine days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ron earned BA and MA degrees from Arizona State University and a PhD in Geography from Michigan State University, which included doctoral research in Kenya under a Fulbright fellowship. He taught at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, Michigan State University, and University of Maryland College Park prior to his long federal tenure, which began as an Intelligence Research Analyst at CIA. In 1984 he moved to the then-Defense Intelligence College (now NIU) in Washington, DC, and over the following two-plus decades served as a department chair, Associate Dean, and finally Provost beginning in 1993, the same year the school’s name was changed to the Joint Military Intelligence College (JMIC). When he retired from JMIC in 2005 and moved to the far southwest corner of the Rocky Mountain State, he also turned over his critical pioneering role as head of IAFIE.

Ron was elected during the organizational meeting held at then-Mercyhurst College (now University) in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 2004. The effort was initiated by Robert Heibel, who a few years later became the Association’s third Chair and in 2023 was selected for the IAFIE Lifetime Achievement Award. Upon notification of Ron’s passing, Bob remarked, “Dr. Garst seemed like the ideal candidate to initially lead IAFIE and he willingly accepted it . . . Good guy and may he RIP.” Ron’s obituary mentioned that “his greatest love was the art of teaching,” which is what IAFIE is all about. It also noted, “All who knew him experienced his brilliance, giving nature, and gentleness.” My personal observation of Dr. Garst, based on the year and a half I worked for him at JMIC (alongside Center for Strategic Intelligence Research director Dr. Russ Swenson, another IAFIE founding member), was that Ron was a kind, gentle soul who knew how to get the most out of his faculty and students with a sort of calm, persuasive manner and always a smile on his face. He did not believe in strong-arm tactics or unreasonable demands of his subordinates. As IAFIE began maturing, Dr. Garst was truly the right man at the right place at the right time, and those of us who worked with him feel we may be witnessing the passing of an era as fewer and fewer of the Association’s current members were around to experience its rapid growth and development.

We greatly appreciate Ron’s leadership during IAFIE’s formative stages and pray for his family in this time of sadness. After a life well spent in academia and intelligence, he will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues.