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Giffords pins medal on husband at his retirement

'You are an inspiration' - Biden to congresswoman

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U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on the chest of her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at his retirement ceremony Thursday in Washington, D.C.

About 50 people gathered to witness the ceremony, presided over by Vice President Joe Biden, in the Secretary of War Suite in the Eisenhower Executive Building, next to the White House.

Kelly, a Navy captain, came in with his family, including daughters Claudia and Claire Kelly, his mother, Patricia Kelly, Congresswoman Giffords, and her mother, Gloria Giffords, about 1:40 p.m. There was prolonged applause.

The congresswoman's friends and colleagues, including U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, sat in the first two rows.

"It's really special to have the vice president as the retiring official. Not very many people get to do that," NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden said earlier, as those gathered awaited the start of the ceremony. "And I think it's quite appropriate, given, you know that his wife is a sitting congresswoman. Mark's been an incredible leader for us in the astronaut office. We're sorry to see him go."

The visit marked Giffords' second trip to the nation's capital, and one of her few public appearances, since she was shot in the head during what authorities charge was an assassination attempt at a "Congress On Your Corner" constituent meet-and-greet Jan. 8.

At the ceremony, Giffords wore glasses, a red blazer, black pants and running shoes. Her hair is still short but has grown out a little since her Aug. 1 vote on the debt ceiling. She sat in the front row, next to her chief of staff, Pia Carusone.

She stood up on her own for the Pledge of Allegiance and invocation. The room where the ceremony took place is decorated with the first U.S. flag to fly over Paris after its liberation at the end of World War II.

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"Our nation has gained in the gift of self from this great citizen," said the House chaplain, Rev. Patrick Conroy.

One of Kelly's daughters helped award Kelly the Legion of Merit, and Biden helped pin it on his jacket after it came loose.

Giffords got up on her own to help present her husband with the Distinguished Flying Cross medal, which he earned for commanding the fourth and final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour.

Giffords pinned it on her husband's jacket with her left hand. Biden pointed out that she did a better job with the pinning than he did.

'It's not everyday you encounter examples of sheer courage, selflessness and dedication, like you see in this couple.'

Biden said he was honored to officially retire Kelly. Kelly and Giffords asked that he perform the ceremony, he said.

"As vice president I get to work with an awful lot of people who devote their lives day to day to public service," Biden said. "But it's not everyday you encounter examples of sheer, sheer courage, selflessness and dedication, like you see in this couple."

He said Kelly has "commendations galore," including top decorations given by the Pentagon and NASA. He noted that service is a Kelly family tradition. Both of Kelly's parents were police officers and Kelly's identical twin brother, Scott, is also an astronaut.

Biden said Kelly did his job with "humility and humor." On one shuttle mission that included the task of repairing a faulty toilet at the International Space Station, Kelly, "floated through the airlock and said, 'I understand you are looking for a plumber.' And one hell of a plumber you were."

He commended Kelly for leading the Endeavour space shuttle in May and spoke directly to Giffords, saying she is an inspiration to thousands of people who suffer from traumatic brain injuries.

"I don't use the word loosely. You are an inspiration. You've been inspirational, people looking, saying 'I can make it, I do this,'" Biden said.

Kelly was the final speaker, saying it has "truly meant a lot to us" to have so many people "in our corner."

"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to fly in space not just once but four times," he said. "NASA is the example of scientific research, development and success and must remain a permanent part of the fabric of this great country."

There is no greater friend and no worse foe in the world than the U.S. Navy, he said.

He gave flowers to his daughters and to his wife — a bouquet of pink tulips for her.

"Gabby, you remind me everyday to deny the acceptance of failure," Kelly said. "I look forward to the next phase of our life together and watching all of your future achievements."

Also present at the ceremony were Under Secretary of the Army Joseph William Westphal and Vice-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mark E. Ferguson, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Reps. Adam Smith, Erik Paulsen and Pete Olson as well as retired U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton.

Giffords was not expected to go to Capitol Hill or conduct any congressional business during this visit, her office said.

She arrived in D.C. on Wednesday and left to fly back to Houston after the ceremony and reception. This is the sixth time Giffords has left Houston since arriving there in January for her rehabilitation. She has made no announcements about her political future.

A memoir by Giffords and Kelly, "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," is scheduled for release on Nov. 15.

A TV special on ABC is scheduled to air the evening before the book's release. Although the network touted "a landmark television event" in a press release, saying "Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly will share their remarkable story for the first time since the tragic shootings" in "a broadcast exclusive," the congresswoman had not decided whether to give an on-camera interview, her spokesman said last month.

Jan. 8

Giffords was shot in what authorities charge was an assassination attempt at a "Congress On Your Corner" meet-and-greet with constituents at a Northwest Side grocery story. Six were killed and 13 wounded in the shooting rampage, including the congresswoman.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22 at the time of the attack, was charged with 49 counts by federal prosecutors. 14 of the charges could potentially result in a death sentence.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that Loughner should be returned to a Missouri prison facility where doctors have been attempting to restore his ability to stand trial. Loughner has been given anti-psychotic medication against his will.

His return to the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., has been delayed pending an appeal.

Based in part on a pool report by Stephanie Innes, distributed by the Vice President’s office.


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David Lienemann/White House

Kelly's service

From a Wednesday press release from Giffords' office:

Kelly received a B.S. degree in marine engineering and nautical science from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, graduating with highest honors in 1986. In 1994, he received an M.S. degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

In December 1987, Kelly became a naval aviator and made two deployments to the Persian Gulf on the aircraft carrier USS Midway, flying 39 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm. He has logged more than 5,000 hours in more than 50 different aircraft and has over 375 carrier landings.

Kelly became a NASA astronaut in 1996 and made four trips into space aboard the space shuttle. He commanded three of those missions.

Mark Kelly has received numerous medals including the Defense Superior Service Medal (with one bronze oak leaf cluster); Distinguished Flying Cross; Air Medal (with valor device and three bronze service stars); Navy Commendation Medal (with valor device and one bronze service star) and the Navy Achievement Medal; Southwest Asia Service Medal (with one bronze service star).

He also has received the Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (with one bronze service star); Navy Unit Commendation (with one bronze service star); Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (with one bronze service star); Overseas Service Ribbon; Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia); Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait); NASA Exceptional Service Medal and NASA Space Flight Medal (with three bronze service stars).

At tomorrow's retirement ceremony, he will be awarded the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross medals.

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