By Lisa R. RhodesMay 13, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (May 12, 2011) -- Honest, direct and humble are the three words Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas used to describe Command Sgt. Maj. Mike W. Watkins at the sergeant major's retirement luncheon May 4.
"I don't like farewells for personnel ... and I especially don't like this one," said Thomas. "But this is a tribute that needs to be done to recognize his higher kind of service to America."
Watkins, who served as the installation's command sergeant major for nearly two years, steps down Friday and officially retires from the Army on Sept. 30.
More than 65 of his colleagues and friends gathered at Club Meade to bid farewell to Watkins, his wife and family before they relocate to Atlanta, Ga.
"I do appreciate you being here," Watkins said. "It's about the community, it's about the team."
In a tribute that included a slide show of Watkins, senior military leaders and directorate leaders from throughout the installation praised the sergeant major for his no-nonsense commitment and dedication to service members, their families and the Army.
"He will always be my sergeant major," said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Smith, who will assume the position of installation command sergeant major Friday. "I have learned so much from him."
Smith and Watkins worked closely together for the last two months.
"He's hard-nosed; he has that shield on his chest, but deep down he has a good heart," Smith said. "It's always about taking care of Soldiers."
Smith presented Watkins with an empty 75 mm round shell in acknowledgment of the sergeant major's career as a field artilleryman.
On behalf of Headquarters Command Battalion, Command Sgt. Maj. Cedric Thomas presented Watkins with a 21-inch "Keeper of The Colors - CSM Statue."
"You're a dynamic Soldier that everyone should want to be like," the command sergeant major said about Watkins.
A native of Hollywood, Fla., Watkins, enlisted in 1979. He completed basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Okla., as a canon crew member and was first assigned to the 36th Field Artillery Detachment, 59th Ordnance Brigade, Germany, where he served as a special weapons technician and senior assembler.
In the early 1980s, Watkins served as a 155 mm howitzer section chief, gunnery sergeant and chief of firing battery before completing the drill sergeant school at Fort Dix, N.J., in 1989. He also served as a basic training and senior drill sergeant with numerous infantry companies, as well as the B Company, 195th Ordnance Battalion. In 1991, he served as the platoon sergeant and first sergeant for C Battery, 4/11th Field Artillery (Airborne), Fort Richardson, Alaska, playing a key role in the world's only Arctic Airborne firing battery.
Just before arriving at Fort Meade, Watkins took on the role as the 3-320th Field Artillery (Airborne/Air Assault) Battalion command sergeant major at Fort Campbell, Ky., where he immediately redeployed to Iraq, completing his third extended tour.
In November 2009, Watkins became the installation command sergeant major, replacing the retiring Command Sgt. Maj. Esmond Bakker.
During the retirement luncheon, the installation commander said Watkins wanted to be deployed to Afghanistan for a combat assignment but was assigned to Fort Meade.
"He took off on this mission; he gave it 100 percent," Thomas said, adding that Watkins did not enter military service for the laurels or recognition. "He is in there because he loves the Army, he loves the Soldiers in the Army and he loves America. It's as simple as that."
He later described Watkins as "old school" and a "warrior."
Watkins was given gifts and accolades from the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security; the Directorate of Emergency Services; the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade; the Asymmetric Warfare Group; Army Cyber Command; and the Installation Chaplain's Office.
During his remarks, Deputy Installation Commander John Moeller said that Watkins was known on the installation as a handyman, fixing the retreat canon in front of the flagpole on McGlachlin Parade Field. The canon was broken for six years, but now the installation's flag detail can fire it every day during retreat.
"When he gets his tool box, there's nothing he can't fix," said Moeller, who presented Watkins with a gift card to Lowe's and a certificate of appreciation plaque from the installation.
In tribute to Watkins, a brick will also be placed in the walkway at Constitution Park, said Moeller.
During an awards presentation, Watkins' wife, Carlene, was presented with a bouquet of red roses and received the Commander's Award for Public Service from the Fort Meade community and the Army for 30 years of selfless service as a military wife. She also received a certificate of appreciation from Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chief of staff of the Army, for supporting her husband's career.
Watkins also received the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for his service as an athletic coach and as a mentor, and for his support of Soldiers and their families throughout his career.
He was also awarded the Legion of Merit from the Installation Management Command and a certificate of appreciation from President Barack Obama. The event ended with Watkins' receipt of his retirement certificate.
"I don't really get emotional, but I'll get emotional anyway," said Watkins as he thanked his wife and three sons for their enduring love and support.
Watkins said he looked forward to spending Mother's Day with his wife.
"Spending quality time with her -- and watching 'Private Ryan,' " he joked.