NB - most of this is supposed to be under cuts with clever intros, but LJ cut doesn't seem to be working today.
I am retired from the Reserves. I marched in the Veteran's Day parade and had a (mostly) formal military dinner. I also did "New York stuff" and saw many of the people I love best in the world. In all, an awesome week.
Hospital clinic on Tuesday morning - the first teaching clinic since I've been back. I told them to book me lightly, so I we almost had more Residents than patients. That did leave room for the inevitable add-ons and ER consults. I wasn't really in the rhythm of it, but have to start somewhere. Actually, my rhythm is always off at the hospital clinic. I’m used to my own office, where everything is laid out efficiently, but I enjoy being a teacher
The drive down was benign. I listened to an Audiobook (ah, the joys of an iPad). I don't normally care for Audiobooks, but they make the time go by on the road. No travel kefuffles - I guess that future-tense flat tire the day before did indeed count as the problem for this trip.
Wednesday was a cultural day. First I had breakfast with Dad
, then she and I met up with my favorite museum geek, oxymoron67
, to see the Dead Sea Scrolls
exhibit at the Discovery Center museum. I highly recommend this excellent exhibit; it's well-organized, well-balanced between historical explanations and artifacts, and just the right length. After that, WWC
and I went to TKTS (half-priced same-day Broadway tickets), scored tickets, and saw Sister Act
. Really good.
Welcomed the troops home on Thursday. My last official act in the Army was to welcome home one of my Forward Surgical Teams (FST). They spent 9 months in Afghanistan and were demobilizing at Ft. Dix (close to NYC). As their Brigade Commander, I went down to shake hands, eat lunch with them, and tell them I was proud of the job they had done. They really did do a great job; from the stats I got, I think they were the busiest FST in Afghanistan. I keep the speeches short, but I do want the troops to know that their work is appreciated by me, by the Army, by the country, and that I hoped they were proud of themselves, as they had a right to be.
In and around the whole week, I did the real work of an Army leader - I talked to people and signed lots of paperwork. (Napoleon got it wrong - an Army doesn't travel on its stomach, it travels on paperwork.) Later that day, I met up with Pipemajor
(who, if you are keeping track, Gentle Reader, you will know was my Command Sergeant Major 2 commands ago). We had dinner at the local Italian restaurant we always used to go, then went over to Fraunces Tavern to scope it out and have a drink.
Saturday (yes, I'm skipping around), did more New York stuff. During the day, Pipemajor
and I went sight-seeing. First we walked the High Line,* the second section of which is open. (Had done the first section with Davidthearchitect
last year.) Then we headed over to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). Neither of us are that big on modern art, but he'd never been to MOMA, and not entirely sure I had either, so we scoped out 2 floors-worth (2-3 hours - that's about all the museum-ing I can do in a day before sensory fatigue and cultural overload set in). There was a retrospective on de Koonig - definitely a screwed up individual, but interesting to see the development of his work. Also saw part of their standing exhibits, both such famous paintings as Van Gogh's Starry Night
and some artists like Umberto Boccioni about whom I'd known nothing (but intend to read up on ). That night, we met up with a small party at the famous jazz club, the Blue Note. It was Chick Corea's 70th
anniversary performance. He was playing with Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet. Never saw a string quartet doing jazz - probably never has been done before - but when you're Chick Corea, you can do anything you want, and it works.
Friday was the big day.
During the day, I marched in the Veteran's Day Parade. I went in my Afghanistan uniform and marched with IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America). One bit of true Army (for old times sake) was "hurry up and wait." We spent about 2 hours in the area where we met up (signed in with IAVA, got our sweatshirts, schmoozed), then moved to the official marshalling area and waited for another 3 hours. All this for about 40 minutes of marching. But dang! that 40 minutes felt good. People lined 5th
Avenue and cheered and waved, and we yelled and waved back. At one point along the route, IAVA had a table set up, and we stopped to pose for pictures and make noise. All well and good, but then we were 2 blocks behind where we should have been, and in true Army fashion, double-timed to catch up. I'm sure some of the on-lookers thought we were doing some sort of formation running or showing we were still hooah. No, just trying to get caught up. It was inspiration marching in the Veteran's Day Parade as an official veteran.
That night was my retirement dinner at Fraunces Tavern. This is an historical building in New York, having been a tavern since 1762** The great military significance is that this is where George Washington said farewell to his troops. A little grandiose of me to hold my farewell there, but also I'm a sucker for the historical. (BTW, he only served a cold supper, I served a proper dinner. So there, George.) It was really a touching event for me. The only fly in the ointment was that ravensron
couldn't make it, but did have the rest of my (not very big) close family. Folks literally came from near and far - WWC
lives only a few subways stops away; Pipemajor
came in from out-of-state, which I really appreciated. Heck, I appreciated everyone who showed up. Total of 40-50 people including my CG (Commanding General, a.k.a. "boss") and 2 other generals. The evening was as close to a proper, formal, military dining-out as the space would allow. Pipemajor
played the bagpipes, Don
(the male half of DonandLinda
played the bugle). Cocktails before, receiving line, saluting the colors, toasts (especially including "absent comrades"***), dining, presentation of awards and gifts, and a few brief speeches. The gifts may technically qualify as tchokas
, but they are meaningful to me and the people who presented them, and I was touched. They are gracing my mantelpiece as I write this. Several people spoke briefly, including the CG, and I gave my farewell remarks.**** Didn't entirely
choke up - would have spoiled my macho image (such as it is), but close.
L'envoi. I'm still tired and a bit down, but that is a natural aftermath to deployment and retirement. All told, it was a splendid week, and a great finale to my career. I was pleased and touched more than my poor words here can express. May your retirement celebrations go as well, Gentle Reader, and may your lives be filled with joy and significance. * An old elevated railway that is being turned into a linear park. Very tastefully done.
** The original building was built as a private house in 1719 by Stephan Delancy. Samuel Fraunces bought it in 1762 and turned it into a tavern. The building is owned by the Sons of the Revolution, who run the museum on the upper floors. The ground floor is a restaurant/tavern run by the Porterhouse, an Irish brewing company.
*** The first toast is always "to the United States of America." The last is always something like "Absent Comrades" (there are slight variations). A small, empty table is specially set. I arranged the explanatory reading with different people doing each line: "The small table is positioned a place of honor. It is set for one. This table is our way of symbolizing the fact that members of our profession of arms are missing from our midst. They are commonly called POWs, they are called MIAs, they are called the fallen. We call them "brothers and sisters.” They are unable to be with us and so we remember them in their absence. The table set for one is small - symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner alone against his oppressors. Remember. The tablecloth is white – symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms. Remember. The single yellow rose - symbolizing remembrance - displayed in a vase, reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in-arms who keep faith awaiting his return, lest we forget. Remember. The red ribbon tied so prominently on the vase is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn upon the lapel and breasts of thousands who bear witness to their unyielding determination to demand proper accounting of our missing. Remember. A slice of lemon is on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate. Remember. There is salt upon the bread plate-symbolic of the families' tears as they wait. Remember. The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us this night. Remember. The chair - the chair is empty - they are not here. Remember. Remember, all of you who served with them and called them comrades, who depended upon their might and aid and relied upon them, for surely, they have not forsaken you. Remember." The piper played Amazing Grace and the bugler played Taps.
**** Paraphrasing a bit, as best I remember: "Thanks for coming, it really means a lot to me. I have some notes, but uncharacteristically, am not entirely sure what to say. I've never spoken at anything so personally intense before. I've welcomed new Soldiers into the Army and said farewell to retiring ones; I've seen units off to war and welcomed them home (mentioned the FST); but never my own retirement. Some of you know that our Piper was my CSM - he used to sit in the front row with his stopwatch and give me that 'Sergeant Major look' if I spoke to long - well tough, it's my retirement and I'll go long as I want. (Mentioned that I'd been in or with Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Army; Active, Guard, and Reserve.) It's truly been an honor and privilege to serve - and I admit, a lot of fun. Got to do things that most people only dream about. Movies seem more intense; they take the highlights of a year or a whole career and pack it into 90 minutes. They have to, it's entertainment. In the real world, it's spread out over 32 years, but when you add it all together, I got to be the star of my own movie - not many people can say that. I got to travel - good places and bad. The past year, I got to Japan and Italy - a working vacation, but Italy on a working vacation is better than just about any other vacation anywhere else. Other places not so nice; you take the good with the bad in the Army. I've walked the sad and dusty places of the world. Sometimes for humanitarian work (like Haiti), sometimes I did my small part in the ancient wars of the children of light and dark. I got to serve along side of people I love and respect. I read somewhere that life is like the blink of an eye. There is no significance in the blink of an eye, but there can be in the eye that blinks. It is up to us to create that significance. To have served in the Army is to have filled my life with significance. I don't say that is the only path - you all have to make your own paths - but it is a big part of mine. So now, It's adieu and farewell… or maybe just au revoir and see ya' round. Right now there's a 70-something dentist serving in Afghanistan on a retiree recall. The current wars are winding down, the Army is already shrinking and will shrink further. We grey-hairs are retired or soon will be. You young'uns will have to carry the torch. Likely in another 5 or 10 or 15 years there'll be another war and the country will suddenly find that the Army is too small. Then perhaps I'll be the one coming back on a retiree recall. If so, I will quote Thomas Mallory. He wrote La Morte D'Arthur which was the full, grown-up version of the Once and Future King. After describing the history of King Arthur, he speaks in his own voice for himself: 'now the world is again engaged in war, and I, and old man, must go to serve my country.' As to what will happen - only time will tell - it always does. But, at least for now, this old Soldier will fade away."