POUND - Of all the people to personally welcome him home from his second tour in Iraq, Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Elkins did not expect his commander in chief to be one of them.
The native of Pound in Wise County, however, fielded a personal call Monday from President Bush at Elkins' stateside duty station in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"Why me? I have no idea," Elkins, a Class of 2000 Pound High School graduate, said Tuesday. "My platoon commander - our Camp Lejeune public affairs officer, actually - asked for the name of two Marines, and (the platoon commander) gave him my name and the name of a fellow Marine. We both got calls from the president. I got my call from the president at 4:30 p.m."
While President Bush didn't invite the leatherneck up for a beer and a wild night in the West Wing, it was a friendly chat, Elkins said.
"He thanked me for my services. He asked me if I was seeing a significant change from my last deployment, and I told him to stay the course. We were making significant progress in my opinion and in the opinion of my fellow Marines," Elkins said.
"That was pretty much it, really. It was, you know, pretty exciting. I talk to higher-ranking officers all the time in the unit I'm in, doing briefings with them and all that. But it's pretty neat to talk to my actual commander in chief. It was an honor."
Elkins is the son of Mike and Karen Elkins of Pound. His father is a coal miner, and his mother works at a branch of BB&T Bank in Wise. He has a sister, Laura Beth Elkins, currently studying nursing at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap.
His wife, Whitney Elkins, is a fifth-grade language arts teacher at L.F. Addington Middle School in Wise. Elkins said his wife was en route to Wise County from North Carolina on Tuesday after they enjoyed a whirlwind reunion following his return from Iraq on March 15.
Elkins' first tour in Iraq was from February through September 2005. This time around his unit, Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, was attached to CLB-1 (combat logistics battalion) at the Al Asad Base in Iraq's Al Anbar Province. He took issue with the war protesters here in the United States.
"I've seen some significant changes since my (first) time I was over there. When you drive down the road there's a lot of people waving and smiling. And, of course, more than some who don't want you there at all, I'm sure," he said.
"But really, there are good things going on over there. You just don't see it on the news here at home. They just show the bad stuff. I don't even watch the TV news, it's so one-sided. Everybody got upset because there were no weapons of mass destruction or this or that or whatever. But those people needed help, and it needed to be done, I think. There's no overnight fixes for Iraq. They're starting from scratch pretty much, and we're doing all we can to help them along. The troop morale is really high. Several Marines wanted to extend (their tours of duty in Iraq), which speaks a lot to the morale over there."
Elkins said if not for his favorite teacher, he might still be there, too. The Marine Corps motto, semper fidelis, apparently extends to all facets of the globe and anchor, especially when the anchor of his world lives and works in Wise County.
"If I wasn't married, I probably would have (extended)," he said. "Otherwise, just tell everybody back home I appreciated their thoughts and prayers while I was over there. That's pretty much it. Semper fi and oorah!"