GMC News

Alumni Awards

Alumni Weekend 2005 “Honor the Past, Celebrate the Future”

Georgia Military College alumni and friends will meet October 14 and 15 to celebrate Alumni Weekend 2005. One of the highlights of the weekend will be the honoring of a select group of individuals with Georgia Military College Alumni Awards. The recipients of these prestigious awards are selected annually from submitted nominations.

The award recipients are: SGT Chad Mercer (Distinguished Alumnus Award), SGT Michael Stokely (Distinguished Alumnus Award), Commander James M. Salter, USN (Ret.) (Alumni Achievement Award), Elizabeth Umberhandt Harrelson (Outstanding Recent Alumna Award), COL Jane Simpson (Honorary Alumna Award), Mrs. Suzanne Martin Ratliff (Community Service Award), and Mr. Diego Diaz (GMC Service Award). These seven extraordinary people, selected from among a record number of nominations for the 2005 awards, are representative of the fine character and countless acts of excellence displayed by the alumni and friends of Georgia Military College. GMC is fortunate to have been a part of the lives of each of these fine people. The contributions of the 2005 Alumni Award recipients have, without a doubt, made the world a better place.

Distinguished Alumnus Award

SGT Chad Michael Mercer
Awarded Posthumously
JC 2000

The Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes alumni whose lives have embodied the ideals of Georgia Military College including discipline, moral character, and learning; whose accomplishments have made a conspicuous and positive impression on those who will follow their lead; and whose lives are examples of extraordinary accomplishment.

Chad Mercer graduated from GMC in 2000. While attending the junior college, he was a member of the Chain of Command and on track to become an officer in the Early Commissioning Program; however, he confided in friends that he preferred to remain a front-line enlisted soldier because in that role he could have greater influence. COL Pat Beer, GMC Commandant of Cadets and Dean of Students, said of Mercer, “He was a great cadet. He had the biggest smile you could possibly believe and was always very friendly. He had a can-do attitude, and I remember he could run like the wind.”

After leaving GMC, Mercer served with the 48th Brigade of the Georgia Army National Guard when that unit was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2001 as part of a NATO peacekeeping operation. In 2005 he was again deployed with the 48th, this time to Iraq. He told his father-in-law before leaving, “I’m doing what I want to do. I’m fighting for my babies’ freedom.” During this time, Mercer was named brigade NCO of the Year.

On Thursday, June 30, 2005, Mercer died while serving in Iraq. He was killed when the Bradley fighting vehicle he commanded went off a narrow dirt road in darkness and tumbled into a canal. Having been hurt in a blast from a roadside bomb the day before, which knocked his regular vehicle out of service, Chad could have declined the mission. He didn’t. His platoon commander said, “That’s not the kind of soldier he was. It would never have occurred to him not to go.” The commander of the 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry regiment stated, “His soldiers respected him because of who he was. They wanted to be like him. His spirit will always be with us.”

Chad Mercer is honored, in spirit, with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, to be presented posthumously to his family.

Distinguished Alumni Award

SGT Michael James Stokely
Awarded Posthumously
JC 2002

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes alumni whose lives have embodied the ideals of Georgia Military College including discipline, moral character, and learning; whose accomplishments have made a conspicuous and positive impression on those who will follow their lead; and whose lives are examples of extraordinary accomplishment.

Michael Stokely attended GMC as a State Service Scholarship cadet. COL Pat Beer, GMC Commandant of Cadets and Dean of Students, described Michael as “a great kid in every way, chain of command material”. CSM Steve Stoner, in whose barracks Stokely spent most of his stay at GMC, said, “He was an outstanding cadet from day one. He was always first to volunteer for any additional requirements that came our way. After his first year here, he was selected to be a Cadet Captain (Company Commander) for the following year, but due to personal obligations, he decided not to return to GMC. He was well respected here in the Corps, and he was a well respected soldier by all accounts. He will be missed.”

Since middle school Michael had talked about joining the armed forces. Soft-spoken, talkative and popular in high school, Michael’s real interest continued to be the military – its structure, the camaraderie, and the sense of purpose. His stepfather had been a Marine, and a grandfather and an uncle had served in the Air Force.

When he was on the verge of 18 and considering the military, his father told him to ask himself two questions before joining the National Guard. “Are you prepared to kill? And are you prepared to be killed?” Michael did join the Guard and in May went to Kuwait on his way to Iraq. On Tuesday, August 16th, he was killed after stepping on an explosive device a few miles south of Baghdad. Stokely fulfilled his mission in life, that of becoming a soldier. He believed in what he was doing; he loved what he did; and he died, doing what he wanted to do.

Michael Stokely is honored, in spirit, with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, to be presented posthumously to his family.

Alumni Achievement Award

Commander James M. Salter, USN (Ret.)
Sacramento, California
HS 1938

The Alumni Achievement Award is designated for an alumnus who has attained notable success in his chosen field or profession at the local, state, or national level, and whose achievement might serve as an inspiration to anyone considering entering that chosen field or profession, or might serve as inspiration to anyone to excel in his chosen field or profession because of the example set by the recipient of this award.

James M. Salter graduated from the High School Division of GMC in June 1938. As captain of Company “A,” he was awarded the sabre for having the best-drilled company in the Cadet Battalion. The Union Recorder proclaimed him as “the most outstanding regimental officer.”

Later that year, he joined the United States Navy. Apprentice Seaman Second Class Salter attended Class A School in 1939 – 1940 and served on the U.S.S. Wasp CV-7. He was part of the Bermuda Neutrality Patrol and British Fleet in 1940 – 1941 and with Scotland in 1942. Salter was serving on the Wasp as a gunner’s mate first class when it was sunk by submarines off Guadalcanal in September 1942. The Wasp had been covering the landing of reinforcements. The survivors that were rescued left the area in October 1942. His next ship, the U.S.S. Essex CV-9, commissioned at Newport News, Virginia, joined the Pacific Fleet and fought in 13 major battles.

Salter returned home and attended the University of Georgia 1946 – 1948. He then moved to San Francisco where he joined the Naval Reserves. He retired from the United States Navy in 1974 at the rank of Commander and now resides in Sacramento, California.

GMC Service Award

Diego Diaz
Milledgeville, Georgia
HS 1972, JC 1974

The GMC Service Award is designated for an alumnus or friend of Georgia Military College who has rendered special service to the school or to any of its ancillary organizations including the GMC Alumni Association, the Bulldog Club, the Booster Club, or the GMC Foundation, Inc.

The GMC Service Award is presented to Diego Diaz, HS 1972 and JC 1974, in recognition of the many hours he has spent coaching the GMC Preparatory School’s and the GMC Junior College’s tennis teams.

Members of the teams note that although he receives no monetary compensation for his efforts, Diaz is a great coach who has been invaluable to the teams for the past four years. He was instrumental in helping the GMC Preparatory School girls’ team advance to the state playoffs for the past three years, assisting in coaching them to three division championships.

Diaz’s love for the game and for his players was returned in the form of an award presented to him by the students whom he coaches. His greatest reward, though, seems to be the admiration and respect of his players who say his service is straight from the heart and his commitment to GMC is unparalleled.

Outstanding Recent Alumna Award

Elizabeth Umberhandt Harrelson
Milledgeville, Georgia
HS 1994

The Outstanding Recent Alumna Award recognizes alumni who, having completed their studies at GMC within the past fifteen years, have demonstrated excellence in academics or in their chosen professions, or who have made great strides in their personal life, and who show promise of continuing excellence.

Elizabeth “Beth” Umberhandt Harrelson exemplifies the requirements for this award. Harrelson is a compassionate, committed, hardworking individual who, since leaving GMC, has pursued her education in medicine, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and the same in biology from Augusta State University. She received her doctorate at the Medical College of Georgia, and is currently a third year resident in training in pediatrics at the Medical Center of Central Georgia where she was selected Resident Academic of the Year and Resident Teacher of the Year. Harrelson will continue her education in neonatology at Vanderbilt University in July, 2006.

This 1994 graduate of GMC High School says that the medical profession is very much “in the family.” Her mother and father had successful medical careers, her husband, Philip, is practicing medicine, and her brother is pursuing his studies in the same field. With the outstanding academic record she has established in preparation for a successful medical career and her continuing pursuit of excellence in the field, Harrelson is proudly keeping the family tradition.

In spite of the demands of preparing for a career in medicine, Harrelson is raising two bright, incredible girls, Abigale and Carlin, and, surprisingly enough, still finds time to do volunteer work in the community.

Honorary Alumna Award

COL Jane Simpson
Milledgeville, Georgia

The Honorary Alumna Award is bestowed upon individuals who are not alumni of Georgia Military College, but who have rendered special or exceptional service to the school or to its Alumni Association, and who, by virtue of their service, are worthy of the designation of GMC Alumni and all that the designation entails.

COL Simpson, an alumna of the Woman’s College of Georgia (now GC&SU), became the High School Media Specialist at GMC after receiving a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina. In 1992 she was appointed Library Director and has held the position since that time.

Some of Simpson’s accomplishments at Georgia Military College include planning the 1996 renovation of the library, bringing computers into the library for the first time with a rudimentary word processing center, computerizing the library catalog, and developing the electronic library for students, faculty and staff at all campuses.

COL Simpson has planned, and carried out on a volunteer basis, projects that supported members of the GMC family who have been deployed in our country’s service. These include the “Yellow Ribbon Week” event in support of the Bosnia Peacekeeping Mission, the Books-to-Troops project that weekly sends a box of paperback books to those stationed in Iraq, and she has ordered a service flag.

Simpson has become the “historian-in-residence” for GMC, having researched, prepared, and presented a program on the history of the school for civic organizations in Milledgeville and surrounding counties. She also wrote and produced a reenactment of the Secession Convention presented at the reopening of the Old Capitol Building after its renovation. The reenactment was also presented during the Joint Session of the Georgia General Assembly and a special session of Supreme Court, which were held in Old Capitol Building.

To Simpson’s credit also are research projects yielding information about GMC and GMC graduates for several publications. She says the things she enjoys most are working with the students and learning about the history of Georgia Military College so that she can share it with others.

Community Service Award

Suzanne Martin Ratliff
Milledgeville, Georgia
HS 1989

The Community Service Award is given to Georgia Military College alumni who through leadership, inspiration, teamwork, or hard work in the spirit of volunteerism or in their professional activities, have taken the lessons of GMC’s Character Education beyond the classroom and whose actions are characterized by a history of exemplary service resulting in unquestionable improvements within their community.

Suzanne Martin Ratliff, a graduate of the GMC High School Class of 1989, has shown outstanding leadership and community involvement in Baldwin County. She is a kind, dependable, responsible and committed leader who is, without question, an asset to the community.

Ratliff is a member of numerous organizational boards and has held positions of leadership in several community and regional organizations including Make-a-Wish Foundation, American Heart Association, GMC Alumni Association Board of Directors, Leadership Baldwin, Citizens’ Advocacy of Baldwin County and Milledgeville-Baldwin County Recreation Department. In addition, she has held a number of leadership and honorary positions in the Milledgeville Junior Women’s Club, including president and Clubwoman of the Year. She is currently the 10th District President of the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs. Last year, Martin was a 13 WMAZ Straight from the Heart Winner for all her community work.

Ratliff manages the family business, Martin’s IGA, and is a member of the Hardwick Primitive Baptist Church.