Army Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue saluted a flag detail, strode to a nearby podium and spoke his first words as the commander of the Army’s newest renamed post.
“Welcome to Fort Liberty,” Donahue told an assembled crowd Friday morning.”The center of the universe.”
With a short on-base ceremony punctuated by a 15-gun artillery volley and the unfurling of a new post flag, Fort Bragg officially became Fort Liberty on Friday.
Though the crowd on hand for the ceremony included generals, admirals and command sgt. majors in tailored and heavily-badged uniforms, Donahue made clear that the name “Liberty” owed its origin to a woman seated in the front row, Patti Elliott, who wore a simple white dress.
White is the color Gold Star mothers traditionally wear to honor their fallen children.
It was Elliott, Donahue and other officials said Friday, that had inspired the name Liberty to replace Bragg as the post’s namesake when many associated with the base lobbied for competing names.
“What Patti did is, she made us raise our vision and become more conscious of who we really are,” Donahue said. “It is about liberty. This is about America. This is about what we all stand up for. It took a Gold Star mom for all of us to get out of those silos and do what is right.”
A Patriotic Son
Patti’s son, Spc. Daniel “Lucas” Elliott, was a 21-year-old Military Police Officer when he was killed July 15, 2011 in an improvised explosive device attack in Basra, Iraq.
“He was always very patriotic,” Elliott told Task & Purpose Friday. “He had tattoos of American flags. Liberty is the cause he was fighting for and that everyone on this base fights for.”
An Eagle Scout and competitive rifle marksman, Lucas left high school a semester early to enlist in the Army Reserves, joining the 805th Military Police Company in Cary, North Carolina. The 2011 deployment was Lucas’ second to Basra.
“Their first deployment had been a relatively safe deployment. They didn’t lose anybody,” Patti said. “I blame that for why he was in the lead vehicle in the convoy. Because he knew the streets and he knew the routes. And so he was valuable to his team to be in that first first vehicle.”
During a movement through the city, a cell-phone activated device shot a projectile into Lucas’ vehicle.
“It was his time,” Patti said.
The Key Meeting
In the years after Lucas’ death, Patti threw herself into Gold Star organizations. By 2021, she was the president of the North Carolina chapter of American Gold Star Mothers and served on the Army’s survivor advisory working group.
It was those roles that led to Elliott joining the Naming Commission Community Forum, a group of North Carolina-based officials formed in 2021 to nominate a locally preferred name to federal officials — if one could be agreed on.
Liberty was not among 87 initial “finalist” names released in early 2021 by The Naming Commission, the federal body charged in 2021 with finding new names for nine Army bases named for Confederate generals. The list did include several soldiers with deep ties to Fort Bragg who had received the Medal of Honor, including: Delta Force operators Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart, who were killed during the Battle of Mogadishu while defending the crash site of a Black Hawk helicopter; Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, a Green Beret medic in Vietnam who fought so savagely during a six hour battle that a US doctor who recovered him thought he was dead; and Sgt. Alvin York, who led a World War I trench raid with a handful of soldiers and captured over 130 German soldiers.
But “Liberty” began to emerge, officials said Friday, after Elliott spoke emotionally during a commission meeting at the base’s Iron Mike Conference Center in the summer of 2021.
As the meeting dragged on, officials said Friday, advocates for different soldiers made their case, but none seemed ready to compromise and no clear favorite emerged. Then Elliott spoke up.
“I’m not one to keep quiet,” she said Friday. “I said, with all due respect, I appreciate everyone had their special interest group that they were representing and that’s exactly what they were there to do, is advance their cause and I totally got that. But as each one spoke they were leaving out this one, or that one, or the one over here, or the one still to come.”
Though the names of soldiers were usually associated with on-base units like the 82nd Airborne Division or Special Forces, Elliott said, “Liberty” was at the heart of all of Fort Bragg’s missions.
“There had to be a way that we could include everyone and make it significant for those who have come before and those who will come in the future to make the legacy that we are building now,” Elliott said Friday.
From that meeting forward, Liberty quickly emerged as the leading candidate, said fellow commission member, retired Army Gen. Dan McNeill, a former commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“She carried the day,” said McNeill.
Of the Naming Commission’s 87 early names, 85 were people, one a geographic location and one a “value”: Courage. Liberty, Elliott told Task & Purpose Friday, essentially occurred to her on the fly.
“It kinda tumbled out of my mouth,” she said with a laugh.
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