Favorite Soldier/ Third Favorite Veteran*

My favorite soldier in the United States Army, SFC Michael Elliott, retired recently after  more than 24 years of service. I was honored to attend his retirement ceremony at Fort Bragg and to read a letter from President Bush #41.

Fort Bragg, located just west of Fayetteville, North Carolina, is named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg. It covers more than 251 square miles, which is about 3 times the size of Boston. Fort Bragg is best known as the home of the US Army Airborne Forces and Special Forces. It is also the headquarters of the Golden Knights where Mike was a team member for 10 years.

I was very excited about going to Fort Bragg, so allowed for plenty of time to drive the few miles from my hotel, in order to arrive in plenty of time for the 10:00 AM ceremony. What I didn’t allow for  unfortunately, was a problem at the gate. Mike had told me to enter Fort Bragg at the Butner Rd entrance because that road leads directly to the Golden Knights’ headquarters. I tried entering at Butner Rd but quickly learned  it’s only for military.  I was instructed to make a u-turn, exit the base and enter at another entrance a few hundred yards away.  Having very little time to waste, I entered the first available checkpoint at the second entrance. So what, that it said something about a ‘dod card’?  I entered anyway, hoping it was like driving into the ‘correct change’ booth by mistake and being allowed to pass through. No such luck.  I told the guard that I had no idea what a ‘dod’ was while kinda hoping at the same time that maybe I had one and just didn’t know it.

Should have known that 'dod' stands for Department of Defense.

The guard wasn’t amused, told me to take yet another  u-turn, exit Fort Bragg for the second time and go to a different checkpoint. Time was fleeting. When at last I found the right place to enter, I had to get out of the car so it could be inspected.  I wasn’t surprised as this was the same procedure when I visited Lakehurst Naval Air Station a year ago. The drill consists of the driver popping open the trunk and hood then exiting the vehicle and opening all doors. The reason the driver must do everything is so the guard can read  his/her body language in an effort to determine if there is an explosive in the car. All went smoothly until I was asked to open the hood of the rental car. It had popped but had not unlatched. I can’t open the hood of my own car let alone that of an unfamiliar one. I admit, I wasn’t trying very hard because I did not want my hands to get dirty. One can not read a letter from a former leader of the free world with dirty hands. It’s the truth. The annoying guard, who obviously didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation, continued to insist that I stick my hand under the hood, with absolutely no regard for my newly manicured nails. After many attempts, the hood finally opened. When I noticed black grease on my finger tips, I almost cried. Seriously. The guard, probably in an effort to get rid of me as fast as possible, ran and got a bottle of  hand sanitizer hoping it would solve the small crisis. Fortunately, the grease came off. I got back in the car and floored it through Fort Bragg in order to get to the ceremony on time.

Golden Knights' Headquarters~ Notice how the roof looks like a rectangular parachute.

Upon finding the Golden Knights’ headquarters, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Relief lasted only seconds though as I was horrified to see that every available parking space had a sign saying ‘Military’.  Now that’s just rude!  It was about 9:58 AM and panic was setting in big time.  I found a dirt lot nearby, parked my car and with only seconds to spare,  walked as fast as I could, down a hill in 3 inch, wedge sandals back to the Golden Knights’ headquarters.  I was met at the door by a very nice man who said, “You must be Nancy.” Dang, I realized that meant I was  the last person to arrive. He swiftly lead me to the room where everyone was waiting for the ceremony to begin and showed me my seat along the wall with the other speakers. (Obviously they  all knew which gate to enter and how to open the hood of a car.) The ceremony started about 8 seconds after I arrived.

Singing National Anthem

After the National Anthem, the Battalion Commander said a few words. He singled out several young Golden Knights in attendance and asked them all to stand. He proceeded to point out that everyone standing had not even been born yet, when Mike Elliott joined the Army!  Before I knew it, and pretty much before I could settle down, it was time to read the letter which was written to one of my favorite people by one of my favorite people. It wasn’t easy.

That is a bruise on my arm not a tattoo.

Next up was the Battalion Commander who presented Mike with the Retirement Award for over 24 years of faithful service to our country.

Then Mike was presented with the Excaliber Sword by the Sergeant Major.

There were more presentations including a litograph, Certificate of Achievement from President Obama, Retirement Certificate, and a US flag and lapel button. At retirement ceremonies, flowers are typically presented to the retiring soldier’s mother and spouse. Mike made sure that every woman at his retirement ceremony received a yellow rose.

The floor was then opened up to team members and guests. One by one, they went to the front of the room to talk about Mike. Some stories were funny, others were serious but all were heartfelt. It was pointed out by many that Mike had so much fun while being a Golden Knight that he really hasn’t worked a day in the past 10 years.

One of the many friends who spoke.

A short video clip was shown of Mike preparing for his final skydive as a Golden Knight. In the clip, he is seated at a table piled high with Golden Knight medallions. He explained that he was going to take them all on his last jump then pass them out at the retirement ceremony.  I asked Donna Dixon, the  Golden Knights’ media director, if that was a Golden Knight tradition. She replied, “No, that’s just Mike.”

Picture of video clip.

Last Jump

A nice lunch followed where I had the pleasure of chatting with many of the guests including Mike’s proud parents and fiance. I loved that his father wore a necktie from the USS BUSH aircraft carrier.

SFC Paul Sachs very kindly gave me a tour of the Golden Knights museum where a great deal of attention is given to President Bush’s jumps. President Bush’s most recent jumpsuit is on display complete with a cardboard cutout of his head so it looks as if he is standing there in real life. The museum includes countless trophies and awards all won by the Golden Knights over the years. There is also a separate room in honor of the Knights who have lost their lives. I wish I could have spent more time in the museum.

An old style parachute on display in the museum.

After the tour, I said my good-byes, took my yellow rose and  Golden Knight medallion and sped out of Fort Bragg before another guard could stop me.

* Two WWll vets have first and second place locked in the ‘favorite veteran’ category. That would be my father followed by President Bush#41. Mike Elliott has a lock on third place.

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7 Responses to “Favorite Soldier/ Third Favorite Veteran*”

  1. Iggy Says:

    What fun, Ms. Bixby.

  2. Anne Says:

    What a great story! And what an honor to a great man and serviceman.

  3. Sylvia Says:

    As always, I just love your posts, but this one was especially fun to read. Brought tears to my eyes when I read your last line. Great photos and what an honor. I want to know what the letter said, can you post that too?

  4. sally Says:

    You must have the most amazing “treasure box”!

  5. Mike Elliott Says:

    Agent 99
    I was honored to have you be a part of my ceremony, even more honored to have you read the letter from our 41st President.
    It makes me proud to be your 3rd favorite veteran!!
    thank you
    agent 1-1

  6. Cathy Says:

    A delightful read! The sequence of events leading up to you reading the letter is such a “Nancy” story ;)…thanks for sharing.

  7. Beatriz Says:

    I loved this. What a great day.
    B.

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