Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Day of Days

And so it came to pass, that in the early winter of 1999 I reported to my Air Force support unit's office to initiate the process to retire from the United States Air Force. It had been nearly 24 years on active duty and I was fast approaching the high year of tenure for a Master Sergeant. Which just so happened to be - yes, you guessed it - 24 years.

It was a bit bittersweet. It was time to go, or nearly so and in order to collect the retirement check I had to go through the formal process of retirement. The nice airman began to explain the process, I just told her that I didn't care how the process worked I only wanted to know, what and where do I sign?

It's been nearly 16 years since I retired so the paper chase involved in the process is only a vague memory. As I noted above, I didn't care how the process worked. I did care that it actually worked and I can tell you, these many years later, that the process worked. I receive a very nice paycheck every month, though while not enough to live on, it does keep me in beer and skittles. So to speak.

Oh yes, I received (quite to my surprise) that very nice lapel pin depicted above. It resides in the lapel of my suit jacket (my Sunday-go-to-meeting-clothes as I call them) and moves with each change of jacket. (The surprise of it will be described in due course, POCIR.)

The day I retired and the day I signed the paperwork to actually leave the service were not one and the same. To make matters even more confusing, my retirement ceremony preceded both of those events.

The ceremony of my retirement in which I got to wear my fanciest uniform but one (the fanciest being my mess dress) and wherein I got to make a speech and hold an audience of uniformed people and an assortment of spouses (including my own) in thrall with the brilliance of my prose...

Um yeah, got carried away there. Bit of a digression, wot? Anyhoo, that ceremony was held about two weeks before my actual retirement. At that ceremony my fellow Non-Commissioned Officers presented me with an "I-love-me" shadow box and a French cavalry saber. I told a lot of that in a post two years ago, that would be this one. Entitled (appropriately enough) The I Love Me Wall.

I checked that post and noted that I had not mentioned that my speech was wondrous and exciting, causing many in the audience to sigh and applaud at appropriate moments, I believe one or two of the fairer sex may have actually swooned. And I made the Major cry. A very tough Major I might add, not your typical non-flying Major (the capitalization of his rank is intentional) but a Major who had been enlisted, in a previous life and had jumped out of perfectly good airplanes (as the saying goes) to assist in bringing in air support for the Army. Which necessitated him attending the "how to jump out of airplanes the Army way" school at Fort Bragg, home of the airborne. At this point Juvat would, no doubt, include the following film clip. (And I believe in upholding the fine traditions of this here blog. Even if someone else started it...)

Yes, the Major had been through "Army training."A tough little barsteward he was (and I say that with respect, seriously) and I made him weep at my retirement speech.

Hhhmm, thinking back on it, those might (I say might) have been tears of joy as I would no longer be around to impale the commissioned crowd upon my rapier-like wit.

Yeah, sure.

At any rate, the retirement ceremony was pretty excellent. The actual signing of the papers was not nearly as excellent as it required a long drive, followed by explanations of benefits, signing away a sizable chunk of the retirement check for the benefit of The Missus Herself (survivor benefits, if I croak before her, she still gets a check, a small check but better than nothing) and the presentation of that most important item, the DD Form 214.

Now that bit of paperwork is sort of a thumbnail sketch of one's entire career. Training, decorations, places assigned to, the exact number of years, months and days served and (most important of all) the annotation that I was now retired, honorably. (I don't think you can retire dishonorably, at least not on paper.)

Now the long drive part. Here's a map of the trail, er, I mean, road, from Geilenkirchen NATO AB, Germany to Spangdahlem AB, Germany. As I was stationed at a NATO base I could not be retired there, no, for that I must needs be travel to an American base. The closest (Spangdahlem) being 195 some odd kilometers from Geilenkirchen (GK as we called it, well so did the Germans, we weren't being disrespectful, no really). Rather than blather on about that, the map -

Note that this route takes one through Belgium, passing near Malmedy, then St. Vith before passing back into Germany via the Eifel, all places familiar to the student of history for (among other events) the Battle of the Bulge.

You'll note on the map "A" (which is GK) then "C" which is Spangdahlem. So what is "B" you may be wondering? "B" is the former Bitburg AB. Former as in we don't use it anymore. When I was there it still had housing, a commissary and a Base Exchange (that would be Post Exchange for you gravel agitators). I don't know what's there now.

But to get to Spangdahlem one went through Bitburg. Another map -

The terrain between Bitburg and Spangdahlem (as you can see, well, if you can read a map you can see) is all rather up and down. Not in any sort of alpine way but in a very Vermont, New Hampshire, western Massachusetts way. If you're familiar with those. Which I am. You may have other examples of semi-rugged terrain and I invite you to share those in the comments. Or not. I leave that to your own most excellent judgement.

Now that part of the route I have traced for you in red is uphill going to Spangdahlem and downhill departing same. Take note of that.

So I'm at Spangdahlem, all the papers have been signed, two copies of the magical DD Form 214 are in my possession as is that cool pin in the opening photo. I am, for all intents and purposes, officially retired. I am "a. D.", außer Dienst as 'tis said in the Luftwaffe. The pin I had not heard of, I had not been briefed, so to speak. But still, I thought it was pretty cool. I thanked the nice lady Staff Sergeant for the pin. 'Tis a simple thing, I know but as the Emperor said, "A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon." Or a cool pin.

Now I had brought civilian clothes with me. The Missus Herself thought that odd but I told her that in 1975, I had walked onto an Air Force base as a civilian, wearing civilian clothes. For the next 24 years I wore the uniform. I told myself that on my last day, I would go onto base wearing a uniform. Then I would leave in civilian clothes. To spend the rest of my days as a civilian. I thought it fitting, but then again, what do I know?

So I left the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (CBPO) and headed to my car. Hopped in and felt, I don't know, odd I guess. My Air Force career was over, tout est fini and all that. I was damn near a civilian. (Not until the 1st of June technically, I signed all the paperwork and walked off the base on the 27th of May, I think. It was a long, long, long time ago.)

Started the engine and headed towards home. Came to the top of that bit in red on the second map and noticed something odd. A temporary traffic light had been set up there with the German equivalent of "Men at Work." Of course, the light was red.

It stayed red for a long, long time. Eventually the Germans behind me got frustrated and passed me, headed down the long narrow road into the valley. Where men were working. Or so the sign claimed.

After the last vehicle of the 2nd Panzerdivision (sic) had blown their horn at me and headed down the road, I though, "Well, fire truck this. I need to get home."

In my defense, I waited a few more minutes. Light stayed red, a most annoying and irritating shade of red. A mocking sort of red which said, "You'll be here forever you silly retired Air Force person."

It was then I moved out, past the red light and down into the valley.

Where I encountered some Germans who were apparently cutting the grass along the verge. In between cigarette breaks and telling each other funny stories.

As I came into view, they all started yelling various German insults and making obscene Teutonic gestures. All the while smoking their cigarettes and having a break.

On any other day I might have slowed down and returned the various and sundry German insults and obscene Teutonic gestures. But not that day. No, not on this, the Day of Days. My last day in the Air Force. Nope. I did this...

No, I did not get a fly over on my final day in the blue machine. It would have been nice, it would have been expensive. But still...

Nah, I was good with that. The taxpayers had suffered enough.

I was retired.

The fly over I did not get...
U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist David Rush*

A tip o' the hat to blog buddy Pogue, his post regarding an army pilot's retirement flight inspired today's ramblings and musings upon mine own retirement. So long ago...

* Sarge, have you been hitting the sauce again? That's a picture of the Air Force Thunderbirds! I know, I know... But it is a U.S.Navy photo, Chief Rush took the picture after the 'Birds did a flyover of the Arizona memorial. So there, I'm completely sober.


  1. I'm bummed. I didn't get a pin! Or a Thunderbirds flyover either
    Good story!

    1. No pin!?!?

      Follow the link for the source of the photo, less than $8. Perhaps the officers have to "buy their own" and we enlisted types get 'em free? Who knows?

      Thanks Juvat. (That "Army training Sir" clip never gets old.)

    2. Yeah, it got me through CGSC at Leavenworth. Everytime the "why do we.." started getting too frequent, I referred back to that movie. Mrs. Juvat was still in Kadena, and Little Juvat was with me, but only in 1st Grade, so watching it frequently was not a problem.

    3. Now I'm inspired to watch it again!

      Chicago. Bang bang.

  2. That was quite the process, Sarge! ! would have thought they'd send you back Stateside to retire you, but what do I know... (Army Training, Sir!)

    1. I guess technically speaking I "retired at port" but in reality it was all over bar the shouting when I got my DD Form 214.

  3. Good story. As an olde friend would say, Ya truly knows how to parse them syllaobbles. ;-)

  4. I hope that they sent you back Stateside all expenses paid. What was the procedure? United, American, C-130, C-47?

    1. I think it was slow boat with accommodations on the rowing deck. This was, after all in the Clinton Era. ;-)

    2. Dave - flew back on an Airbus after a one night stay in a nice hotel in Brussels. Nothing but the best. After all, I was in NATO. None of that scruffy USAFE stuff for moi.

    3. Sigh...

      The Clinton Era. When I left the country The first President Bush was in office. When I returned it seemed like a different country, thanks to Slick Willy. And I don't mean that in a good way.

      That slow boat was for E-6 and below. We in the Top 3 Mafia ran everything, how soon you forget!

  5. RE: Slow Boat. The most disgruntled servicemen I ever saw were the forty or so airmen on the good ship General Maurice Rose doing a fourteen-day trip from New York to Bremerhaven. They seemed to think they should be flying, not cargo on an Army troopship. As an aside, the trip was scheduled to take nine days. Most definitely not fair skies and following seas.

    1. My Dad sailed to Europe on a Liberty ship. Of course, he was Army so he expected nothing more, nothing less. While he never had a bad word to say about his time on the sea, I believe he did mention he was happy to make port.

  6. Very good story, Sarge. I clicked through to your I love me wall post.

    I miss Kansas, I miss the rains...

    Good thing my chromebook is sealed, and that I take my coffee black.

    That is priceless!

    1. I do believe I sprayed the monitor the day I found that gem. So of course, I shared it.

    2. That moment when I went, "wait a minute, that wasn't Kansas...Doh!"

    3. I actually knew what you meant. I do miss the band Kansas. The state? Jury's still out on that, I passed through the great state of Kansas once or twice. Once was in December, I won't do that again.

      I will be laughing about that gif for a while, perfect.

  7. Mine was a dirty shirt retirement at NAS Whidbey Island Security Department Quarters....
    I was already retired for five and half years by the time you called it quits..............................
    High year tenure for Petty Officer First Class after Desert Storm...........................

    1. You joined earlier than I did as I recall.

      You too got bit by the HYT bug. I have another story there. Hhmm, time to start writing.

  8. BTW, I was already working in the private sector when the actual date occured. I had almost 45 days of leave and the travel time so I was home about a month and a half befor e the actual date.
    Colin Powell retired the same day......................he got a fly over and a 21 gun salute..............we went to Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls and got me a blue one and changed the brown ones for Missus ORPO and the Kids.

    1. Ah yes, the magical blue ID. Got mine at Portsmouth Naval Yard. There's a story there methinks.

  9. 1978 - I ETS'd in Europe. Berlin. No ceremony involved. My wife, at the time, was a GS-12 DAC and I stayed as her dependent. It was a strange sensation . . . one day, a seasoned technician with a TS Crypto clearance, the next . . . a nobody (as far as the unit was concerned.) The hole in the bucket of water swiftly filling in. I remained a civilian for the next 12 years, working for different offices in the Berlin Command. The wife and I separated and I returned to CONUS. After a time, I joined the CT Army National Guard, going on AGR status in1992. I was medically retired in1994. Traveled down to Ft. Monmouth, NJ for all the retirement paper work. Signed, sealed and delivered . . . walked off post a civilian again . . . but this time a "retired" civilian, with all the privileges therein afforded.

    1. An interesting journey.

      Berlin? My Dad spent three years there, right after the war. From the pictures I've seen, a lot different in 1978 than in 1946. Less rubble in '78 I'm thinking.

  10. Gravel Agitators? Nice. Haven't heard that one before. Ground pounders kicking up dirt, or is that an oronym for Naval Aviators? If it's the latter, we use NEX vice PX/BX- the best clothes at the worst prices!

    1. A term for infantrymen. I first saw it in Col. John Elting's book Swords Around A Throne, which is probably one of the best books I've ever read about Napoleon's army. Not the campaigns and battles so much but about the army itself.

      I've seen the term used in a WWII context as well.

      Hhmm, "oronym" never heard that one before, I like it. (As in Naval Aviator, Nasal Radiator, ice cream, I scream, und so weiter.)

    2. Yah, it's not a phrase that sounds exactly the same, but close enough to use a word I learned recently!


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