Photos by Maj. Michelle Lunato
98th Training Division (IET) Public Affairs
CHARLOTTE, NC. — On June 5, 2021, Family, friends, and colleagues of three U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers came together at 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training) to celebrate their accomplishments and watch them take the next steps into Army retirement.
The retirees honored were Command Chief Warrant Officer Five, Neal H. O’Conner, Jr., Col. Matthew A. Patterson, and Lt. Col. Sammy Hicks, III, and, as noted by ceremony host, Maj. Gen. Andrew Juknelis, commanding general, 108th TC, each has served for a tenth of the time our nation has been formed.
“George Washington, when he founded that first Continental Army, back during the Revolutionary War, is really where you got your Army values, and your oaths, your loyalty to the Constitution which all started back then in history, and I think that’s relevant to what you all have accomplished,” explained Juknelis. “I just wanted to put their long service into some sort of historical perspective.
The 108th celebration of service ceremony recognizes Soldiers for their distinguished service to the U.S. Army and the Nation as they prepare to transition into civilian careers or fully retire. With CoVid restrictions lifted for vaccinated Soldiers, this was one of the first times that the 108th has been able to fully celebrate the accomplishments of Soldiers in a fully present manner.
Each retiree was given an opportunity to speak to the ceremony attendees, which led to heartfelt words and emotional speeches. The retirees shared their individual military histories, mentors and inspirations, the sacrifices their families had experienced in support of their service, and they shared what they will, and won’t miss most about the Army.
Hicks, chief of Internal Review for the 108th, began his speech thanking “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, because without Him I wouldn’t be here today.” He went on to praise his family and their support while acknowledging his belief that his father, who is looking down from heaven, would be proud of how he is the head of the household for the entire family. “I do what I do and I have done what I’ve done since day one for these people up here,” said Hicks, gesturing to his family.
Hicks credited his parents and grandparents for their unfailing support, love, discipline and values in helping him establish the person he became, and many Soldiers and mentors in helping him attain his military success.
Patterson completed his career as the G8 (finance) officer for the 108th and was, although emotional, able to bring a laugh from the crowd as he remarked that his dress blues were purchased in 1992 and he was “glad I still fit in them.”
With too many people to thank, Patterson also focused on his family, his wife and boys for understanding the time away and his mother for “not pitching a fit” when he decided to join the military at age 18.
Patterson also had advice for the ceremony attendees. “If you don’t have a mentor, get one, if you’re not a mentor to someone, become one.”
O’Conner finished his service as the Command Chief Warrant for the 108th and Juknelis was quick to point out the rarity of the rank of Chief Warrant Five in the U.S. Army Reserve. “I think there are about, maybe 20 of us (Maj. Generals) but there might be only five or six of you I think.”
Thanking everyone for attending, O’Conner noted that for many of the Soldiers, this was their first exposure to him since he had been at the unit only during the time of Covid and not met many Soldiers in person.
“This is probably the finest organization that I’ve ever been a part of in my 38 years,” said O’Conner. “That’s a testament to the officer, the NCOs and the junior enlisted that are in the 108th. From day one they make you feel like part of the team.”
O’Conner also thanked his wife and family for their sacrifices and moments missed and challenged the new CW5 to beat his record and “go for 40.”
Everyone was invited to congratulate the new retirees and thank them for their contributions to the Army and the 108th Training Command.
“Thanks everyone for being here, it was an honor to have served with your family,” Juknelis concluded.