I am closing my fifty-two years of military service. When I joined the army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams.
The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-by.
— General Douglas MacArthur Speech before a
Joint Meeting of Congress (April 19, 1951)
In no meaningful way could it ever be said that my military career resembled that of General MacArthur’s:
- I was commissioned through ROTC rather than having attended West Point;
- I served only a fraction of the time he did (28 years rather than 52 years) during an era when weapons, tactics, and society have completely changed;
- Except for two mobilizations and an initial four-month training in my basic branch (Quartermaster) I was exclusively a reservist, serving part-time while simultaneously being engaged in a completely different, and non-military, career; and,
- My retirement occurred by an orderly operation of law, coming as scheduled upon my reaching maximum time in grade rather than as the result of an abrupt relief by the Commander-in-Chief aiming to re-assert civilian control over the Armed Forces during a shooting war
Nonetheless, I feel I understand the sentiment so famously expressed by the General to such a wide and influential audience some 65 years ago this spring. After 28 years of service, I retired from the US Army Reserve on June 1st, drawing to a close something that was part of my life for a longer period of time than it was not.
Much like my year-long mobilizations in 2003-04 and 2013-14, the end of my time in the Army left me with a somewhat bewildering, but not at all uncommon, sense of doing one’s job to the very end, going full steam ahead, until suddenly, one day, the activity just stops. After completing my last annual training this past spring, a somewhat intense two-week stint during which I supported an multi-national command post exercise in Stockholm, Sweden toward the end of April, I flew back to the states on a Friday afternoon and promptly boarded another flight to my final weekend drill in Virginia the very same evening. Naturally, the Army being the Army, they saw fit to have me take a physical fitness test (situps/push-ups/2-mile run) and a random drug test on the Saturday, well, just because. (Actually, that was the month that unit does such things and the PT Test and weigh-in were in fact scheduled well in advance. The random drug test, for obvious reasons, however was not.) “Up in the morning with the rising sun ..” and “we do more before 9AM than some folks do all day”, and all those fine platitudes we soldiers like to spout about ourselves; it was an Army weekend much lake any other I have had through the years. Admittedly, it did take some restraint on my part to resist the temptation to think – “well, what are they going to do if I flunk, kick me out?” – as I grunted out those sit-ups and ran through the light rain, attempting to beat a clock and meet a standard. And so I did, passing my last fitness test. (I will admit to being one of those slugs whose reaction to the idea of exercise is to lie down until the feeling passes.) In its infinite wisdom, the Army also saw fit that weekend to run me (along with my fellow members of the unit) through soldier medical processing and pre-deployment readiness assessment, including a HIV test, cholesterol blood draw, and EKG, the latter two being for soldiers over 40. It was almost the reverse of my entry physical before basic training and in a weird way seemed like a fitting bookend to my career.
That last drill weekend, probably the 300th or so during my time in service, went by extremely quickly as we accomplished our myriad training objectives and I was dismissed from a formation for the last time. And then, poof, it was time to fly back to Boston and go to work the next day, a Monday like any other. No more flights down to Virginia for drill weekends, no emails, phone calls, and staff meetings between drill to coordinate and plan for an upcoming duty weekend, no more slightly nagging but justified concern of an unplanned (and at this point in my life probably unwelcome) recall to active duty with a year-long deployment over yonder. Just poof, soldier no more, thanks for your service LTC (ret) Hellauer. Best wishes and good luck.
For a variety of reasons, including the fact that the unit with which I drilled is 450 miles from where I work and live, and the fact that the person who most would care to have been there after my wife is my father, a retired US Air Force Reserve Colonel, who unfortunately happens to be in somewhat poor health and less able to travel as easily as he might like, I opted to not have a retirement ceremony during my last drill. While my brothers- and sisters-in-arms certainly wished me well and we said our goodbyes during that last drill weekend, my take is that a retirement ceremony (especially for a Reservist) is more a chance to thank those who have supported you along the way, primarily your family but also your employers and co-workers, and your friends. It is an appropriate time and place to recognize those to whom a soldier is indebted, those on whose shoulders (s)he stood and those whose hands provided a lift up; that is, it is a time to thank those without whom career success in the military is simply not possible. Not having Dad, or my wife and kids, or my work colleagues there really did not make having a ceremony in Virginia seem terribly worthwhile. So I didn’t, preferring instead to take solace in MacArthur’s quote and being somewhat content to simply fade from the scene.
However, and rather unexpectedly, my wife Amie and HMMH co-workers conspired so as to not let me completely fade away like the old soldier I have become and now am. Last month they arranged for a surprise ceremony at HMMH’s Burlington office where Amie, one of my daughters (Erin), and my local colleagues gathered one Thursday at the end of the day and presented me with a framed montage of pictures from my military career over the years while we enjoyed cake and adult beverages. Below are some excerpts of a note I sent them out the following day.
Thank you so much for the unexpected and very kind recognition of my retirement from the US Army Reserve. It really is a milestone in my life and I still am somewhat in disbelief that something I have done for so long and which has at times been source of many varied and intense emotions – excitement, joy, fear, frustration, boredom but ultimately, satisfaction from being a part of something worthwhile that is also bigger than myself – has simply ended, much like flipping a switch.
Membership in the reserves does not work without the ongoing support of families, employers, and co-workers. Twice in my 28-year career I have been mobilized (called to active duty) and taken a leave of absence from by civilian employer, once for 18 months with a previous employer and in 2013-2014 (a little under a year) with HMMH. Both times were quite unexpected, disruptive to employers, and came on relatively short notice of around 30 days or so. I am quite mindful that such time away from work, along with the more mundane (and frequent!) occurrences for drill weekends and annual military training for a couple of weeks at a time, often resulted in additional work for my colleagues to cover my absences and pick up the slack I temporarily left behind. After all, whether I’m here or not the show must go on, clients must be served, and commitments made – not only to our external customers but also to ourselves, our firm and its stakeholders – must be honored.
So since that page has turned and I’m not liable to be recalled into military service, I would be remiss if I did not take the occasion to thank my co-workers here and in the past and recognize the support they gave to me, without complaint. The Pro Patria award HMMH won last year recognizes employers and supervisors. But I also wanted to give a shout-out to my colleagues. I vividly recall the an AICUZ project team working long hours on short deadlines during a time that Uncle Sam inconveniently decided that I should have a four-day drill during a workweek. On another occasion, I also recall several of you helping HMMH respond to a sources-sought for a potential Federal client that happened to be released the night before I flew to Tajikistan last fall and was due the day I flew home two weeks later. Over the course of my career there have been many such instances, more than I probably can remember, where my co-workers past and present stepped into the breach, held the line, and by strapping on additional duties that otherwise would have been mine, supported my career in the Army. And for that I thank you.
After retiring and converting my health and life insurance from Tricare and SGLI to retiree equivalents, after having turned in my active Reservist ID card and gotten a Retiree one instead, and after letting my hair grow out a bit more (but not too long yet since I have less of it to work with than I did 28 years ago), I do find myself wondering how much of the Army will remain in me a year from now or when I turn 60 a decade from now. On the plus side, I am flying more and beginning work on my Flight Instructor certificate and having a great time exploring New England by air. I do still find myself wondering my fellow servicemen and women are up to, especially when the weekend rolls around although that too is starting to fade. In the end, soldiering is a young person’s vocation and those who follow in my footsteps are more than up to the task and frankly better in many respects. Looking back and reflecting upon my career taken as a whole, I still can maintain that I got more out of Uncle Sam than I gave in my time and toil.
I do promise, however, that my next blog post will not be about the Army. Like a commencement such as that my other daughter Mary just experienced when finishing her high school career, there is a world of wonder still yet to be experienced, a life after the Army. Being a (part-time) Soldier is something I did, not who I am or what defines me. Retirement from the Army Reserve opens up doors, particularly in my abiding passion of aviation, to opportunities that over the years I typically was too busy to engage in with any depth, despite my having been a pilot for nearly 30 years. To name but one, learning the nuances of IFR operations and the micro-climates found in the vicinity of the airports one finds in the Cape Approach, Boston TRACON, and Boston Center airspace is proving to be quite invigorating and led to a serendipitous discover of a wonderful restaurant in Worcester. Making new friends with the instructors, aircraft owners, fixed-base operator staffs, and controllers, the latter of whose acquaintance is more of a virtual one, gained and pieced together from aural snippets heard over my aircraft headsets while they issue clearances in typical, New England rapid-fire cadences and accents, helps replace in its own way the lost comradery I had with my fellow soldiers.