by Andy Weddington
Wednesday, 24 September 2014
"A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace."
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
In the grand scheme of things, not many folks have opportunity to witness a military ceremony much less attend an admiral's retirement.
Last weekend it was my privilege to witness two admirals retire - one, an engineer, Friday afternoon on the flight deck of USS Midway (decommissioned and now a museum in San Diego) and the other, an aviator, Saturday afternoon aboard Naval Air Station North Island (practically spitting distance to the USS Midway).
Sandwiched between the Flag officer retirements I witnessed some three dozen Sailors pin anchors on their collars - Chiefs they became; in a traditional ceremony marking the transition to greater responsibility and leadership.
Amidst the crowds at these inspiring ceremonies were proud family and friends - vital players in the service of any Sailor (anyone in uniform).
Sailors (and Marines and Soldiers and Airmen and Coast Guardsmen) know of these ceremonies - they know the tradition, the pomp and circumstance, and the importance. They know the hardships and sacrifices and the thrills and rewards and sometimes disappointments and sadness that comes with service.
So it is not necessarily for the military audience that I write today.
For today I write for those who have little understanding of our military, and are essentially clueless about the great sacrifices their fellow citizens make to protect and defend them and theirs and their carefree lives.
In these days of an ever-increasing dangerous world; enemies determined to strike and kill us; and yet a military that is being downsized and gutted to troubling levels of capability and readiness, budget cuts, and inane social experimentation (in the name of political correctness not national security), it's essential the average citizen better understand and appreciate their uniformed brethren.
Thus a snapshot.
What I saw...
Sailors decked out in brilliant Dress Whites adorned with colorful ribbons and shiny medals. Some armed with swords. Spit and polish it was though I remain partial to Marine Dress Blues.
And there was camaraderie like that found no where else - whether in a wardroom, ready room, club or on a training or battlefield. Those who've worn our uniform know of what I speak.
What I heard...
Orders; the Bosn's pipe; the Navy Band; ruffles and flourishes and the admiral's march; singing of our National Anthem; Anchors Aweigh; words; cracking voices and hard swallows moving through emotional comments; and gaiety and cheering.
Presiding officers and guests, admirals, spoke - not gratuitously but with sincerity and conviction - about the stellar careers of the retiring admirals. I sat in awe.
And an admiral and a Command Master Chief spoke to the superb accomplishments and more so to the high expectations of the new Chiefs; the bar is higher. Again, I sat in awe.
There were too many Chiefs to hear from each but their carriage while on the march, and later when individually introduced, said all necessary.
The two retiring admirals humbly spoke about their careers - as if what they accomplished over several decades is commonplace; something any and everybody does. Not hardly. They were quick to credit their families and shipmates for making their chosen profession possible. There was only brief mention of the dangers of what they did. The untimely death of one aviator who did not survive ejection comes to mind. And dangers aplenty - in training and in war; an accepted hazard of service.
The aviator's liking and respect for Marines made for a Marine color guard in his ceremony. Sharp! An accent they were. And I told them so after the ceremony.
Passion, respect for the men and women they led, love of country, a swelling of the heart when seeing our Stars and Stripes; and duty were common themes in their words. And both mentioned how much they'll miss serving. Of course. But still they'll serve.
Know this all who know little about our military, your countrymen who volunteer - whether wearing stripes on sleeve or stars on collar - are the best our country has to offer. Without peer are they. To be amongst these folks last weekend an experience I've enjoyed many times during the past 35 years but tire of never and never take for granted.
As to that matter of respect, much has been made the past couple of days over the film clip of our commander-in-chief, President Obama, sloppily (some sort of cup in his right, saluting, hand) saluting the Marines on post at the foot of Marine One as he exited the aircraft.
For that breach of basic military mutual courtesy the president does not get a pass. On the job six years, it was rude. Disrespectful. And a poor reflection, whether he knows it or not, of him.
As commander-in-chief he is rightfully entitled to proper military courtesies being rendered. And they are - the mark of professionals. Likewise is the proper acknowledgement and return of those courtesies.
Respect from those he commands is another conversation.
And so in closing...
In one admiral's program the closing page included an old Swedish saying (author unknown) written in Swedish and with English translation.
To meet and separate is the way of life.
To separate and meet is the song of hope.
Now we go our separate ways,
Now we say good bye,
But hope to meet again.
And closing in the other admiral's program...
Dedicated to the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who are currently standing a watch, manning a post, or on patrol somewhere in the world.
Let us not forget, America is at war!
At this moment, combatants are on the ground. And others, Sailors and Marines, fly mean machines - night and day from and to pitching flight decks - to kill the enemy. Well-trained, dedicated, dangerous, and lethal, I'm glad they're on our side.
There is nothing easy about a life devoted to - Honor. Courage. Commitment. (Navy/Marine Corps Core Values). Frankly, it's damn tough - on those who serve and arguably more so on their family(s). A Marine yes but a Navy spouse, too, I get it.
With devotion and sacrifice comes great reward for as with all in life nothing, especially freedom, is free.
Pledge allegiance to America.
Though still feeling at a loss for words, that's my take.
And an unexpected Navy reconnection the day after the ceremonies...
While the Marine Officer Instructor on the NROTC staff at the University of Mississippi during mid to late 80s, many a midshipman - Navy and Marine Option - I got to know. Some were more challenging than others. And some of those, mostly due to lack of maturity, the staff privately wondered (and wagered) how they'd do in the operating forces - and whether or not they'd make it past ensign. One of those young men (not seen in 27 years) I had chance to visit with one morning (thanks to a Marine connecting dots). Back then he was a college student, an aspiring Navy officer (from a Navy family), but still a little bit goofy college student. Today he's a Captain - gray and with a stellar career of command at sea and high-visibility staff assignments to his credit - and Chief of Staff, Third Fleet. They do grow up.