By Jim Hughes, Fort Rucker Public AffairsJuly 12, 2019
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career College and Military Officers Association of America officials inducted the Order of the Eagle Rising Society's 22nd member during a ceremony July 10 at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum.
Retired CW5 Paul E. Merchant, who served in the Army from 1968 to 2012, is truly a "franchise player," according to retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, MOAA president and CEO, and also guest speaker for the event.
"This recognition is really from senior leaders, subordinates and peers -- that's us, saying that one of our family members really deserves this recognition," Atkins said. "And certainly Mr. Merchant does -- when you look at his biography write-up, it's just amazing. After reading it, I thought, this is different, this is a bit of a standout here -- his was not just a singular career path."
Atkins continued by saying that football teams need a top franchise player to reach the Super Bowl, and that, for the Army, "Mr. Merchant is that franchise player."
Merchant's multi-faceted military career began in 1968 as an infantryman who quickly found himself in Vietnam being sent into tunnels "to see if there was anything bad in there," according to Atkins.
Then, one day while doing a hot extraction, "I guess he came off the battlefield in full combat uniform, sweaty, stinky, all that kind of stuff, and he jumps into a helicopter and slides along the floor, and then underneath the seat in front of him he sees a pair of really shiny boots," the MOAA president said of Merchant. "And he goes, 'Oh, that's what I want to do -- no more of this stuff, I want to be the person sitting there with the shiny boots.'"
Thus the groundwork was laid for a long career in Army Aviation and a lifetime of service, the retired general said, adding that Merchant accumulated 1,200 combat assault flight hours, and serving in Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Germany, Iraq and even in the Azores as a commander of a U.S. Army tugboat.
And that service continues to this day as Merchant serves his fellow veterans as the Oklahoma Air and Army National Guard Veterans Affairs liaison officer, where he works to ensure veterans receive the help they need from the country they served, Atkins added.
"In MOAA, we have a bumper sticker that reads, 'Never stop serving,' and Paul Merchant is that individual who never stops serving," he said. "It is my privilege and my honor, Paul, to award you the Order of the Eagle Rising Society Award. You are certainly the standout, you are certainly at the head of your class, and you certainly lead by example. Paul, congratulations."
Ceremony host Col. Kelly E. Hines, WOCC commandant, also had glowing words for the newest member of the society.
"In you, we find dedication and sacrifice that must be recognized, and a shining example of what a warrant officer should be. It's impressive what you've done," Hines said. "I tell all of our senior warrant officers that what I want out of them is to be the warrant officer that the candidates want to be when they grow up. And you definitely are the warrant officer that all warrant officers want to be when they grow up."
The guest of honor had very few words to say on his induction, mainly just thanking WOCC and MOA officials for the honor, along with his family and comrades for their support over the years, only adding that it was hard for him to hear so many singing his praises.
"I think it was over the top -- it's embarrassing when it happens and I'm no good at it," Merchant said. "Warrant officers were once known as the quiet professionals. But who's ever known a quiet warrant officer? We're not typically quiet, nor should we be. And while I question my professionalism at times, I do know when it is time to be quiet, and this is it."
He did leave the crowd with some final words, though. "It's a question of not where you've been, but where you're going."