There are two sets of paperwork sitting on my desk just now. One is a packet of documents formalizing an offer of post-naval employment. The other is a packet of documents that will end my active service. I can’t seem to make a start on either of them.
I rationalize to myself that my last day in the uniform of the country I have served for the last 30 years is not yet certain – my approved retirement date is 1 AUG 2008, but I’ve requested a modification to those orders moving it up to 1 JUL 2008. It’ll be approved of course. No reason for them not to approve it. Probably on the way. But it’s not here yet, and so I dither.
Yesterday I found myself trolling through the list of captain jobs on the BUPERS website, although the notion of continued service at this point is anachronistic. Nevertheless I smiled at the thought of serving as the naval attaché to Sweden, a job on offer in August of 2008. Beautiful country, Sweden. Wonderful sporting tradition.
But the fact of the matter is that there are far higher priority fills than that attaché job in Sweden, which will probably be packaged as a “bundled deal” for someone willing to gut the hard job out in Al Asad or in “The Building” first, God bless him and keep him safe. And for me, it’s time. Time to start taking things home from the office. Pictures. Files. The flight jacket that drapes across my chair.
It’s coming down to lasts.
I shined my brown shoes for the last time on Monday. I got my what’s probably my last military haircut today. “Number two, tapered. Even it out on top.” That’s what I’ve said for twenty years, at least. I’m not even sure what to ask for next go-around, although the Kat has formally admonished me that pony tales will not be tolerated. As if.
Broke out a freshly pressed set of khakis and pinned it out for probably the last time today. An eagle for each collar, facing inwards. A name tag. Command-at-Sea pin on the left pocket flap, under the top three ribbons and the Wings of Gold. I worked hard for those wings, and harder for that pin. The ribbons just seemed to show up periodically. The Legion of Merit is my highest award, followed by the Meritorious Service Medal. Both of them mean nothing to me. In fact, the only two bits of cloth I’ve ever cared about were the Strike/Flight Air Medal and Sea Duty Service Ribbon. Twenty or so combat missions – including a tough one that went very well – and seven deployments.
In a week, maybe 10 days the whole rig will go in a closet back home. Every once in a while it’ll catch my eye when I’m looking for something else. I wonder now what I’ll think about in those moments. What I’ll remember. Some day, hopefully very far in the future, it will fall to one of the kids to clean out the closet. Not knowing what any of it meant to me, because I’ve never found a way to talk about it that didn’t seem like boasting.
Drove in to work past the carrier pier today, like I have for the last seven years or so. When I wasn’t at sea. It’s been overcast and rainy, which strangely suits my mood. The USS Ronald Reagan trembles at the leash, ready to go. Stennis was just here, starting the cycle, my people aboard her, certifying her safe for operations. They come and they go, the same ships for forty, fifty years. Different men and women each time. There is a rhythm to these things, rhythms great and small.
There are no irreplaceable men. If you want to know the hole you leave behind when you go, put your fist in a bucket of water. Now pull it out. There. That’s the hole.
It was a nice offer, and seems a good company. All ex-Navy. Small, nimble, flat and entrepreneurial. Program management and acquisition consulting for a large Navy command here in San Diego. As opposed to the behemoths that also were in play. Safe places you could profitably work for another 20 years and leave no mark whatsoever.
There was a time when I really wanted to just do something different. Get away from all of it and make surfboards, or something. But that’s throwing away a quarter century of experience and starting all over again as a novice. With two girls to put through college and a house that’s not paying for itself. And I remind myself over and over again that it doesn’t have to be for 30 more years.
“It’s your contacts,” everyone said, and it’s true that it could have been – I got offers because of who I know. People from back in the day. But the VP hired me as much as anything because I’ve spent the last two and a half years grinding out an MS in Systems Engineering Management during my “twilight tour.” As opposed to working on my handicap. The money’s not bad, especially throw retirement on top of it. But all that said, it’s absolutely appalling how little you get to keep when it’s all taxable.
You’re going to love it on the outside, everyone tells me. It’s going to be great. I nod and I smile and tell them I’m excited. That I can’t wait to get started. All the while feeling like something inside me is dying.
I was very proud to be a part of this. There were some wonderful people, and while it was not always perfect, it was… important.