General D.L. (Dick) Berlijn was born in Amsterdam on 18 March 1950. He began his military career in 1969 at the Royal Military Academy in Breda. In 1973 he began his military pilot training in Canada, where he received his wings in 1975. He then did his conversion training for the NF-5 at Twenthe Air Base in the Netherlands.
In 1976 he transferred to Leeuwarden Air Base for conversion to the F-104 Starfighter. He later trained as a weapons instructor. In 1981 he received conversion training for the F-16. From 1983 to 1985 he was Operations Officer and then Commander of the Transition and Conversion Division at Leeuwarden Air Base.
In 1986, as a member of the 'Ready Team', he monitored 315 Squadron's conversion from the NF-5 to the F-16. In 1987, he was Supervisor of the multinational Fighter Weapon Instruction Training (FWIT) in Denmark, a specialist weapon training course for experienced fighter pilots. In 1988 he was stationed at the Tactical Air Command, as Head of the Fighter Weapon Branch.
From 1989 to 1991, he attended the Advanced Staff Course at the Air Force Staff College. This was followed by a post as Head of the Operations and Training Section at the Royal Netherlands Air Force Staff.
From August 1992, he was Chief Flying Operations at Twenthe Air Base. In that capacity he was tasked with the air base's operational preparations for Operation Deny Flight. From April to October 1993, he was Commander of the first F-16 detachment deployed to Italy. In 1994, he became Head of the Fighter Operations Division, and then in 1995 Deputy Chief (Operations) of the Royal Netherlands Air Staff, holding the rank of Air Commodore.
In 1997, as Deputy Chief (Operations) of the Defence Staff, his tasks included heading the Defence Crisis Management Centre. In November 1998, he was appointed Commander of the Tactical Air Force, ranked as Major General.
On 24 March 2000, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and on 24 June 2004 he took over as Chief of the Defence Staff, and was promoted to General.
General Berlijn is married to Elly M.A. Hermelink. They have two sons.