PEORIA — Brig. Gen. Harold "Hal" Keistler, the former head of the Illinois Air National Guard, a decorated combat pilot and the former head of the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, died this week. He was 72.

Keistler of Springfield, died on March 24. He served as a pilot during the Vietnam War, commanded troops during Operation Desert Shield and Storm as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom. He commanded the 182nd from 1983 until 1986 when he was assigned to command the 126th Air Refueling Wing, the latter of which is now based at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis. He went on to head the entire Illinois Air National Guard, retiring in 2006. After he retired, Keistler was the executive director of the National Guard Association of Illinois for more than a decade.

"The impact Brig. Gen. Keistler had on the Illinois National Guard cannot be overstated," said Brig. Gen. Richard Neely, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard. "He laid a great foundation for today's vibrant and successful Illinois Air National Guard as its commander and, as NGAI Executive Director, his advocacy helped lead to many of the great benefits our Soldiers and Airmen enjoy today. But perhaps his greatest impact on the organization was his mentorship of many of our officers and NCOs."

Retired Col. James Smith said Keistler was respected at not just the state level but at the national level as well.

"I have received calls from active and retired leaders all across the country offering their condolences," he said. "He effected a lot of people. He didn't just care about the Air National Guard, he cared about the entire organization." 

During Keistler's military career he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal along with many other awards and decorations.

Visitiation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28, at Southern View Chapel, 4500 S. Second St., Springfield. The funeral will be 10:30 a.m. Friday at Southern View Chapel. Burial will follow at Camp Butler National Cemetery with military honors by the Department of Defense.