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Jul 1, 2019

Thank You!

General Clark, Major Kipp, Chief Snyder, MSgt Sweet, Lt. Col Geary and the entire JFHQ staff, thank you for making today’s ceremony possible.

I’ve been to many retirements and I often hear a lot of people say, “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry”.  Well I’ll tell you right now, that’s BS.. I’m warning you now, I’m going to cry.  So if it looks like I’m reading this - I am. I did that for your benefit.  

  1. To keep the emotions in check by reading words I’ve now read over and over again a few dozen times. This collection of words - arranged in this order are now familiar to me, so it should help limit the emotional release that comes from digging into the memory banks on the spot. 
  2. This prevents me from ad libbing as much and thus carrying on for 2 hours.  Your Time is valuable and I want to be respectful that. 

Before we get too far into this - It’s important to recognize that I did not arrive on this stage today alone. This was not my doing, this was a collective effort of everyone in my life so, naturally there are so many people to thank.  

I know better than to call you out by name because every single one of you have had an impact on my life, so it would only be fitting to go seat by seat to say thanks, but clearly, none of us want that.  

The fact that you are listening to me right now,  be it in person, or via the web, tells me all I need to know.  Somewhere in our individual lives, our paths crossed and we connected.  We stayed connected and therefore you helped shape my life.  

You found value in our friendship and thus continued to honor our relationship with the Gift of Time - Rick Warren says it best when he says “ The greatest gift you can offer someone is your time.” - So, with all of my heart, Thank you for being here! Thank you for taking time from your schedule and giving it to me and my family on this special day.

I believe the 2nd greatest gift you can give me -  is money, more on that later.

I want to thank our God for the guidance and love that has enabled me to be here fulfilling my mission.  More than once I’ve found evidence of his presence sprinkled into my life. When I thought there was nowhere else to turn, I looked up and a path always presented itself.  

Regardless of your spiritual belief, there is a higher power guiding us all, call it source energy, call it synchronicity, or even coincidence -  call it what you want, but I encourage you to listen to that intuition, follow the lead and be open to whatever opportunities are presented before you. There is always a path.  

5 years ago, my 5 year plan had NONE of this on it.  I’ve been tapped on the shoulder for a new mission of service because there’s more work to be done, I’ve listened and found my place for my service.  That’s why we are here.

This ceremony that brings us all together today is only possible because of the rest of you. I figure everyone else here fits into at least one of three categories. So I’ll take a moment to give detailed thanks to each and every one of you collectively. 

 

First, My Immediate Family

This journey for all of us starts at Birth - or conception, Depending on which side of the room you’re sitting on - I know what you’re thinking though - Oh boy, it’s gonna be one of those stories, well,  It’s important for you to know how I arrived here, because it gives you the insight into my DNA.  

I didn’t just “decided” to join the military 27 years ago. No, that decision was made for me by a Senior Chief and his bride in the heat of the moment when they decided that a second child might be a fair trade for 2 minutes of extra curricular activity right after a long Navy deployment of sea duty.  The hearts of two incredibly loving patriots combined to form a third, or technically in my case, the fourth.  My Dad Deployed a lot.

I was born on a Navy Base in Charleston, S.C., rightfully so, they tore it down shortly after I was born, but anyway, I was raised in the comfort of the Military Lifestyle and with the Core Values of: Integrity, Service, and Excellence. 

Regardless of the verbiage actually adopted by each branch of service, these words ring true for anyone who has ever worn the uniform in defense of this nation.  My Parents honored that commitment and through all the deployments and personal sacrifice their 23 year career presented, they did well.

So, to my Mom and Dad - Thank You, this is what your sacrifice, hard work, and love has produced.  I owe much of this to the foundation you’ve provided and I’m truly grateful that you are here to celebrate our mutual success! - I love you!

To My Older Brother, USAF, CMSgt (Retired) Steve Daggett, I followed your lead to navigate the lives we were destined for.  I’m glad you were the first to disappoint Dad by Joining the World’s Greatest Air Force - I didn’t want to be the one to break his heart but, there was just no way I could join the Navy - So thank you for leading boldly into the Wild Blue Yonder and climbing high into the sun.  

You provided the framework, roadmap and some bread crumbs along the way.  I’m pretty sure I out ranked you most of our careers, well, that is until until you demonstrated superior intellect and were aptly promoted to highest enlisted rank, representing the Top1% of our Military.  

I am so proud of you, I’ve always been proud of you!  I’ve looked up to you every step of the way.  Your mentorship helped me get here, so yes, you own a piece of this stage with me as well. 

Congrats to you on your loving family, your amazing career, your retirement and thank you for riding with mom and dad in the car for 15 hours just to be here. It makes total sense that you’ve decided to just fly home alone though. I get it, I’m sorry.

My younger brother Chris who is Serving his community at home as a Sergeant for the Kittery, Maine Police Department. I’m proud of you too.  Though, had you scored a little higher on the ASVAB (That’s the Military Entrance Exam), you might have qualified for the Army, but none the less, I understand that your calling to service was to Protect those who can not protect themselves and create a safe environment for the members of your community.    

You and your family should be proud for all that you’ve accomplished together and building on the foundation our parents provided and continuing to put your life on the line by serving in your own way.  When I first met you, you were immediately my younger brother, but it didn’t take long for you to be my friend.

To My In-Laws, USAF, TSgt (Retired) Tom Roberge and his wife Doris - On the few occasions I actually thought about my retirement ceremony, I had always envisioned that You and Tom would both be here to celebrate with us.  I never saw it any other way.  

So, it's difficult now to put into words how I’m feeling, because it wasn’t supposed to be this way and these unfamiliar feelings are all so new, and still very painful.  I know we agree however, that he’s here watching this whole thing and likely standing at attention with a sharp salute.  At Ease Tom!

Doris - Your strength, is admirable, and your service to our nation as a Military Spouse and as a caregiver during his battle with Cancer are qualities you’ve passed on to your daughter.  She’s the best of both of you. You two have done incredible work as parents.  I’m incredibly fortunate to have all of you in my life.  You trusted me with a piece of your daughter’s heart and in addition you've given me a piece of yours as well.  I promised the both of you, I would love her forever, that I would honor and cherish her, until death do us part, and following your lead -  I renew that commitment daily. 

The rest of the family, be it by blood or by marriage, being able to count on you as family means a great deal to me.   Thank you for being here!

The next two people are my heart and soul and I couldn’t possible limit myself to words on paper.  So at this point, I’m just going to speak from the heart.

My High School Sweetheart Janine  - I love you!

My Daughter Megan - I love you!

 

Next: To Those I call my Military Family - My brothers and Sisters in Arms:

If you are currently wearing, or have ever worn, the camouflage threads that protect you as you defend our nation - you are my hero. Whether it be a single day, or 30+ years, the mental commitment is the same.  What you signed up to do, is noble and there isn’t a citizen, whether born here, or naturalized who doesn’t appreciate the promise and sacrifice you’ve made to make this country the greatest.

You too have voluntarily raised your hand in defense of this nation, against all enemies both foreign and domestic, you’ve guaranteed your oath by offering your life as collateral so that you could preserve the freedom this nation was founded upon.

The Flag behind me, and the ones presented today stand proud as a symbol of our Nation and fly freely because of your actions.  

Don’t for a single second forget that there are evil people out there willing to trade their lives to ruin ours.  We are trained, we are ready, and dammit, on our watch, this is simply not going to happen!  

Few of us understand what that truly means and I’m telling you now - I get it and I thank you for your service.  It was an honor to serve with you.  As I take off this uniform for the last time, I put my Fatih and trust in your ability to tuck this nation in safely, every single night.

 

The rest of you - I consider My Wingman Family.

This is where my life has taken the greatest turns and yielded the greatest impact.  You bring to my life diversity.  Up until the point where you entered my life, I’d only ever known what my family held onto as truths and what my military family was permitted to share as unclassified discussions during the work day.  

Your collective wisdom has been bestowed upon me and I want you to know I’ve taken something from all of you.  

If you spent your whole life with only those who raised you, and those who look like you, talk like you, and think like you, then there’s a good chance you’re going to miss the amazing souls who fill this room. 

It’s our combined experience that contributes to our great country well beyond the calling to take up arms and wear a military uniform.  You make this country great, and most definitely worth defending.  

You challenged me to think differently, see differently, act differently all while loving equally and unconditionally.  You’ve gotten me through some incredibly difficult times and I can truly say the strength in numbers, through diversity of thought, belief, race, gender and ethnicity have given me tools to tackle any scenario masterfully. 

I’m very well equipped for the future, any future.  We call our land the melting pot and it’s true because your heart has melted mine and I consider us one.  I truly wish to thank each and every one of you in person over the next few hours.  Some of you came from down the hall, some are watching online while others had the opportunity to travel in just to be here. I sincerely appreciate every bit of it.   

 

What’s next for me:

 

Folds of Honor:  

This chapter began to take shape back in 2007.  I was flying all around the country working for National Guard Bureau.  December 4th, I flew 8 flights in one day - I was trying to reach executive platinum status with American Airlines. I left San Antonio early in the morning and flew SAT-DFW-OKC-DFW-TUL-DFW-AUS-DFW-SAT - it was the Tulsa - Dallas flight that altered the course of my life forever.  

My eyes were exposed to the other side of war.  I learned about taking care of others through the Folds of Honor Mission and quickly volunteered my free time to Honor The Sacrifice and Educate the Legacy of our nation’s most deserving heroes.  Lifting up others easily rewarded me internally, more so than I had ever experienced. 

Fast Forward to 2009 - Militarily, I applied for and was selected to be the State Recruiting and Retention Superintendent here in Indiana. With that responsibility, I learned that one of the areas I was going to be responsible for was recruiting TACP Airmen.  

These are some of the most elite battle field airmen we have in the Air Force.  I quickly learned of SSgt Jacob Frazier.  Jake was a Guardsman from Illinois and was the first TACP our nation has ever lost in combat.  Jake gave his life on 29 March 2003 during Operation Enduring Freedom.  There are literally thousands more like Jake who have given their life for our freedom, thus never having the chance to stand on this stage like I am today.  

Newly exposed to the voids left behind, I wanted to personally honor the sacrifice Jake made on our behalf.  For the past 9 years every single day, I’ve worn this bracelet bearing his name - with honor.  Often, I leaned on Jake as a constant reminder as I looked into the eyes of the parents of my new recruits. 

I need to confidently re-assure them that although this job is very dangerous, no matter what  - this brotherhood for which they were about to enter, would never leave them behind on the field of battle.   

There have been many times I’ve confided in Jake, asked for guidance and even taken him for a run, on the days I didn’t want to, but knew he’d enjoy the fresh air.  Together we have arrived here today, at our retirement.  Rest in Peace Jake, this is just as much your day as it is mine. I’m taking this bracelet off now so that you too can enjoy the benefits of a job well done.

I love People and taking care of our military families is my passion. It’s a mission I continue today and I’m proud to report that this year alone, The Folds of Honor will award $25 million dollars in scholarships to families across the nation.  As the Indiana Chapter President, last year we’ve awarded 44 Indiana families scholarships totaling a $218k, and our goal this year, is to raise $500k for disbursement locally in 2020. 

 

Operation FatDag

 

In addition to The Folds of Honor, I learned of another way to give back.  

The DoD admits that 7.8% of our Active Force is overweight.  However in the Guard and Reserve components it’s dangerously higher.  According to the Obesity Journal, it’s estimated that obesity in the military service is rapidly approaching the civilian estimates indicating roughly 1/3 of our nation battles obesity.   It’s the #1 Retention Issue facing our military, and on the other end of the equation, 31% of the youth today are disqualified for military service. It’s a story I know all too well.

For 20 of my 27 years, I was significantly overweight.  I became broken. Mentally I had checked out, my honorable service to this country was on the line and failed fitness test, after failed fitness test, meant, rightfully so, my discharge was imminent.  

My departure would not have been the joyous occasion that it is today.  I was scared and needed help.  I sent an email to about a dozen of my closest friends. I poured my heart out - I begged and pleaded for help, I needed to get my weight under control, my career, my livelihood depended upon it.  

The one response I received that had the most impact came from my Wingman.  He simply asked what the issue was and basically hung up the phone before providing a solution.  The next day I woke to an email from him that read - Good Morning Mike, 68 Days til your next fitness test - go make it a good day. - The next day, Good Morning Mike day 67, go get it..  Good Morning Mike, 66, 65, 64 every single day for 68 days he reminded me that I needed to prioritize my own needs first, before I attempted anything else for the day.  

It’s a lesson that has stuck with me today.  Many of you have heard this story before, but what you may not have realized is that my Truest Wingman is Standing Right here with me on this Stage.  Major Kipp - thank you for walking with me, For carrying me through a dark period of my life, for never leaving me behind and for teaching me that when you summons the courage to ask for help, there will be someone to answer the call.

Many weekends, I’ve traveled the nation speaking out about the National Security Crisis brewing within our ranks.  It became quickly apparent that there is a greater need for my time, energy and talent in order to defend those, who defend us.  

I learned that I needed to hand the flag off to my brothers and sisters and take on this new challenge.  I founded and was granted tax exemption from the IRS for my own Non-Profit Charity aimed to care for actively service members who’s careers mirror mine.  I want to be the one that answers the call, just like my wingman did for me.  

While my next chapter in life starts to take shape, there are a lot of details I am not permitted to share at the moment, but what I can tell you is I’m armed with Passion. I have a team of wingmen and I’m not going to rest until that mission is complete as well.

I’m working a special project as an unpaid Intern for WW in NYC.  WW is determined to bring a wellness solution to every body and without giving anything away, there isn’t a single person on this planet who is more poised to make a difference right now in our history than me.  

While there are over 2 million military members actively serving, My collective life experience to date, makes me uniquely qualified to take this giant leap into the future.  Staring fear directly in the face, I’m going for it.  

My position here has been advertised and there are many talented people to take my place - I’ve recognized if I don’t step forward, there isn’t anyone ready to carry forth this new mission.

So here we are, at the beginning, and It’s time to close out my military service, so that I can leverage that experience and continue to fight for our freedom. 

 

I wish you all well - and thank you again for believing in me!