Kentucky Army Guard State Surgeon honored for 30 years of service

Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Col. Charles Jones presents Col. (retired) Mike Gavin with a Meritorious Service Medal during a ceremony held at Boone National Guard Center Oct. 16, 2014. Gavin retired after more than 30 years with the Kentucky National Guard, his most recent assignment being the state surgeon.  (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — When Mike Gavin first tried to join the military the recruiters didn’t want him.  They said that, among other things, he was practically blind.

“I told them, well, I’m a blind surgeon, if that makes a difference,” he said.

It did.

More than thirty years later Kentucky Army National Guard State Surgeon Col. Mike Gavin retired after a distinguished and amazing career — despite having to wear glasses.

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The “blind surgeon.” Mike Gavin in the field on drill weekend. He went on to serve two tours of duty in Iraq and Uzbekistan, saving lives and bringing comfort to others. (Photo courtesy Col. Mike Gavin)

Gavin served as the battalion surgeon for the old 1st Battalion  123rd Armor as well as 2nd Battalion 123rd Armor.  He also served as brigade surgeon for the 149th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade.

Col. Mike Abell, G-1 director, remembers the first time he met Gavin.

“I was at my first National Guard drill at the firing range,” he said.  “There was this tent that  had a sign that said ‘minor surgery’ and I was amazed to find out they were doing actual surgery on drill weekend.  I’d just come off active duty as an Army Ranger and we didn’t even have that.”

“I told [then] Major Gavin how I’d just gone through a minor surgery with the Army.  He said if  I’d seen him during a drill weekend he could have done it, no problem.”

Gavin had a reputation for giving above and beyond to soldiers, but his practice wasn’t limited to drill weekends and annual training.  He also served a tour of duty in Uzbekistan and two in Iraq, where he saved lives and brought comfort to his fellow service members.

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Nancy Gavin, wife of Col. Mike Gavin, was recognized for her contribution as a military spouse. The Gavins have been married for more than 39 years. (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

Needless to say, Gavin received numerous accolades and awards for his professional accomplishments.  But that’s not what he talked about at his retirement ceremony.  Instead, he focused on the teamwork that made his time with the Kentucky Army National Guard so special.

“I remember after I first got in and going on annual training in Texas,” he said.  “I had this group of NCOs that were trying to teach me how to drive an M113 (armored personnel carrier).  I’ll never forget it … they would slap the top of my helmet to get me to go, slap the right side to turn right and the left side to turn left.  And to get me to stop they would pound the top of my head repeatedly.”

Gavin said throughout his career he relied on soldiers to “slap him on the head” and keep him in line.  “It isn’t easy for a Spec. 4 to say, ‘sir, I really don’t think you should do that.  It’s due to that kind of guidance, that camaraderie and support that I was able to do what I needed to do.”

“I’ll miss the Guard and working with a great bunch of soldiers,” he said.  “It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve.”

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