Today I returned to my old military haunts for the first time since my retirement to attend the retirement ceremony of one of my friends. I wondered how it would be to visit the base as an outsider, but there was no awkwardness, just a comfortable and happy reunion with old friends.
Naturally, I had to dress the part, so I wore a pair of cargo shorts and an black unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt over a blaze orange t-shirt, topped off with a tan Fedora hat. This was doubly amusing as most people didn't recognize me at first, and when they did, almost lost their minds at my get-up.
Among many conversations, I had a delightful discussion with the chaplain, with whom I served for a dozen years. He remarked that he had never seen me so relaxed and content. I told him that I was very much aware of it, and he should try retirement as soon as possible. He heartily agreed.
After the ceremony and reception was over, I stopped by the base exchange to pick up a few things (mostly discounted liquor) and ran into another of my old friends. After his laughter at my get-up subsided, he got serious and said that there was a lot of discussion about how to keep folks like me in touch with the base, and also to tap into our experience and expertise.
Previous generations prolonged their military service to maximize retirement earnings, but Gen X seems to have decided that 20 years are enough. Not only is this exacerbating the ongoing recruiting crisis, it is leading to an unprecedented "brain drain" as the War on Terror veterans head for the exit. (My friend had 20 years plus one month of service. I retired with 21 years.)
I'm not sure how what they will come up with, but I enjoyed the visit.
I was also reminded that Three Weeks with the Coasties was originally supposed to be the opening part of a book about my career, and perhaps after more time to digest it, I'll get to work on that.