Even after 56 years of service, Howard Bullard didn’t want a retirement ceremony.
Instead, Bullard, longtime chief of Fort Stewart’s range control, said he would rather have just cleaned out his office and gone home one last time.
"I did not want all this, I did not want anything to occupy or take away your time from your jobs, and your expenses," said Bullard, who spent 30 years as a combat soldier and another 26 working as a civilian, as he addressed those who attended his retirement ceremony Dec. 15 at range control.
And, then, in the next breath, the man known by many simply as "Chief Bullard" said thanks.
"I appreciate everything that’s happened," he said.
The feeling was clearly mutual, as co-workers and military leaders gathered to honor a man who gave the U.S. more than five decades of service, first during two tours in Vietnam in the 1st Calvary Division’s Airborne Brigade and as an advisor, then later as the top enlisted cavalryman on Fort Stewart, and after that as commandant of the 24th Infantry Division’s NCO Academy.
Beginning in 1990, Bullard started work as a Department of the Army civilian with range control, and over the last 10 years he’s been responsible for the firing ranges on Fort Stewart’s metamorphosis from "rudimentary facilities to a world class" complex of ranges," according to officials.
Bullard received gifts ranging from a U.S. flag that flew over the White House on Veterans Day to coins from both the 3rd Infantry Division commander and garrison commander, and the Department of the Army’s Superior Civilian Service award.
There were speeches such as that from Scott Armbrister, head of Fort Stewart’s Department of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. Like Bullard, Armbrister is a former infantry mortarman. He’s spent 40 years serving his country, and "that pales in comparison to the nearly 60 years this gentleman has given his nation."
The sheer magnitude of Bullard’s service made it difficult to know exactly how to salute him, friends said.
"We were talking about what we’d say at Howard’s retirement," Ambrister said. "We thought about doing a roast, but that would’ve been too easy, And then I asked myself, ‘what do I think of Howard Bullard?’ and what I think of when I think of Howard are those values we all live by … those values are the same for civilians and military, now. Loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor, integrity and personal courage. I can’t tell you of a person who exemplifies those more than Howard Bullard."
During the ceremony, Bullard tried to turn the attention to others. He described himself as a firm but fair leader who "could tell you a story on each one here," Bullard said, and nearly did.
There were a number of presentations during the ceremony, which included remarks from Range Control Chief Jim Pearson, who served as master of ceremonies, and a proclamation from the Liberty County Commission honoring Bullard’s service.
Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said the community is "much richer because of your presence here," and "I am very proud of you and very proud to be here. Have a blessed, blessed, blessed retirement."
Bullard also received framed letters from officers who admired his work and a box full of lottery scratch-off tickets from those he worked with. There were gifts such as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy from coworker "No Go" Joe Caligari, and framed photo collages of Bullard and others taken over the years.
Pearson, who also served in the Army, said when he first came to Fort Stewart as provost marshal "and was much smarter than I am now," he got a phone call from Bullard asking him to shut down Highway 144 in 90 minutes.
"I put the phone to my chest and told one of the civilian game wardens, ‘this guy on the phone wants me to close the highway,’ and they asked me who it was. I said it was some guy named Howard Bullard, and he said, ‘well, if Chief Bullard needs you to do something you need to do it.’ So we did."
Pearson said he and Bullard began working together in 1996, and in just the last 10 years "we supported the firing of 115 million rounds of ammunition, none of which were .22 rounds, and 24 million soldier training days, all safely, and all professionally."
That professionalism too was evident at Bullard’s ceremony. Despite having been a civilian for nearly three decades, Bullard stood at attention time and again as he was honored with various awards, including the Army’s third highest award for civilians, which was bestowed by Col. Townley Hedrick, Fort Stewart’s garrison commander.
"I’m at a loss for words," Hedrick said. "You Google Fort Stewart and Howard’s picture pops up. Thirty years in the green suit, 26 more years here on the team. You don’t find more dedication to training soldiers than that. I feel extremely unqualified to say anything. I know you didn’t want all this, but I appreciate you letting us make a big deal out of it."
Hedrick then tried to put Bullard’s nearly six decades of service into some sort of context.
"You can’t replace, you can’t replace, you just can’t replace," he said. "So, we’re going to miss you."
Afterward, Bullard said he’s seen a lot of changes over the years, but "being a soldier does not change. Being a noncommissioned officer, their challenge is constant, their responsibility to the government remains the same, that does not change."
He said his time in uniform impacted his service as a civilian.
"I grew up in the airborne community, and I had very strict leaders, but they were leaders who also had respect for their soldiers," Bullard said. "That respect that I grew up in, I wanted to pass on to the soldiers I’m involved with, whether as a leader at that level or as the noncommissioned officer academy commandant, where I had the pleasure of training future noncommissioned soldiers."
No matter how Fort Stewart grows, the essence of being a soldier won’t change, he said. The job will always be all about making sure those soldiers who trained at Fort Stewart were ready to go to combat.
"Respect for the soldier. Train the soldier and allow the soldiers to execute their duties. That’s been my motto, and I loved it."