Florida officer receives Award of Excellence from Medical Service Corps
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (May 16, 2012) – At nearly 50 years old, Capt. Bill Elliott may have been among the eldest of the participants at the recent 2012 annual Medical Service Corps Junior Officer Week in Washington D.C.; but the path that brought him to his current position after a nearly 16-year break in service is certainly unique.
Elliott was the sole National Guard recipient of the 2012 Medical Service Corps Award of Excellence and one of only eight throughout all the services. He was nominated for the award by his supervisors, who cited his accomplishments in both his full-time position as the Specialty Branch Officer Strength Manager and also his role as commander of the 256th Area Support Medical Company.
“You don’t end up a 43-year-old second lieutenant by accident,” said Elliott, who currently works as the Specialty Branch Officer Strength Manager for the Florida National Guard.
Elliott’s military career started in 1979 with an enlisted stint in the Army followed by a few years in the Florida National Guard.
“I left the service in 1985 and would never have looked back,” said Elliott. He had a successful career in investments and had just signed a renewal contract with an investment firm when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened.
“I was on the phone with my boss when a second plane flew into the tower,” said Elliott. “We spoke for a while longer and he asked if I was headed into the office and I said, ‘I don’t think so. I think I quit. I’m going to sleep on it and I’m going to pray about it and I’m going to give you an answer tomorrow, but I don’t think investments matter anymore; they’re flying planes into towers.’”
The next day Elliott returned his $75,000 bonus check to his employer and headed back to the military, this time as an E-4 in the Air Force Reserve.
After completing his Master’s Degree in health administration, Elliott was looking for a commissioning route. Officers were over strength at the time in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve so he found himself standing in front of a board to come back into the Florida National Guard.
When asked by the board president if he could handle being assigned as a 43-year-old medical platoon leader with an infantry battalion of young Soldiers, Elliott responded, “Sir, I won’t disappoint you. If your boys can’t keep up, I’ll slow down.”
Elliott was told it wasn’t a question of if he’d deploy, but a question of when. After three drills with his unit and 10 weeks of the Basic Officer Leadership Course, Elliott found himself at Camp Shelby, Miss., where his grandfather had deployed from in World War II, preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Elliott calls that year in Afghanistan, “one of the best years of my life.” He served as the senior medical service corps officer for the 203rd Regional Command Advisory Group, based in Gardez, Afghanistan, as well as an advisor to Afghanistan National Army medical personnel.
It was also in Afghanistan where he met the woman who would become his wife, an active duty Navy nurse.
Upon redeployment, Elliott was assigned to the Florida National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion as the AMEDD and specialty branch officer recruiter. For the past six years in this position, he has brought the medical officer strength up to over 100 percent. In all of the specialty branches, the current strength is at 99.3%, up from just 50% six years ago.
“Florida is what I like to call a target-rich environment,” said Elliott of the recruiting pool and environment in Florida. “It’s not as friendly an environment in all the other states.”
Elliott also spent two years as the Commander of the 256th Area Support Medical Company, a position he just recently relinquished. In one ten-month stretch during his time in command, the unit performed 65 days of medical missions in addition to their regular drill, including supporting the Florida National Guard’s air assault course and sending Soldiers to support missions in Haiti and Guyana.
“They’re young, they’re smart and they’re eager to perform and do what they’re trained to do,” said Elliott.
Elliott is happy with his life and his family. His wife works as a family nurse practitioner; his son serves on active duty in the Air Force security forces; his daughter is a nurse at St. Vincents hospital and his son-in-law just graduated from law school.
“We have a pretty neat life and the Guard is a huge, huge part of that,” said Elliott.
Elliott would like to continue his progression in the National Guard as long as he’s able.
“It doesn’t really matter,” said Elliott, speaking for his family. “Whatever they have in store for us, we’ll step up and do.”