Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Friday, Sept. 20, presented retired Master Sgt. Mike McElhiney, of Independence, with the Patriot Award from the Civilian Marksmanship Program at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs in Saint Paul.
The Patriot Award program partners with members of Congress to honor a selected veteran who has demonstrated valor in military service and a continued dedication to his or her fellow Americans after returning from service. By honoring a “hometown hero,” the Civilian Marksmanship Program hopes to demonstrate to youth that the ideals of previous generations can be found in their very neighborhoods. The intent of the program is to show young people that the heroes they read about in their history books are, in reality, regular Americans who rose to the occasion — perhaps inspiring them to follow suit.
McElhiney, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army, joined the Army Infantry shortly after he graduated from high school in 1989. In 1994, McElhiney attended the Special Forces and Selection and Assessment Course at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was selected to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course. While there he earned the honor to wear the Army Green Beret.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, McElhiney’s team along with a small number of other Special Operations Forces were deployed into Afghanistan at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. ODA 574 was the first team to infiltrate into Afghanistan. On the morning of Dec. 5, 2001, McElhiney and his team came under heavy fire. Many of those fighting that day were killed in action or severely wounded.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program is a congressionally created patriotic organization that was originally founded by former President Teddy Roosevelt and once a part of the United States Army itself. The program is a national organization dedicated to training and educating U. S. citizens in responsible uses of firearms and air guns through gun safety training, marksmanship training, and competitions and youth air rifle competitions — like those in the Summer Olympics.