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Military Traditions

June 19, 2018 By Julie Turner

You Can Leave The Military But It Really Never Leaves You

One of the benefits of being located near Travis Air Force Base is being close to the installation’s many resources including the Retiree Activities Office. The office works to provide a continuous update of information helpful to nearby Air Force retirees.

In one of their 2016 newsletters, this article from Col. Robert Whitener, USMC (Ret) appeared. We think it’s a sentiment that many of our residents — who are also retired military officers — can relate to.

You Can Leave The Military But It Really Never Leaves You

Occasionally, I venture back to one or another military post where I’m greeted by an imposing security guard who looks carefully at my identification card, hands it back, renders a crisp salute and says, “Have a good day, Sir!” Every time I go back to any military base it feels good to be called by my previous rank, but odd to be in civilian clothes, walking among the servicemen and servicewomen going about their duties as I once did, many years ago.

The military is a comfort zone for anyone who has ever worn the uniform. It’s a place where you know the rules and know they are enforced — a place where everybody is busy, but not too busy to take care of business. Because there exists behind the gates of every military facility an institutional understanding of respect, order, uniformity, accountability and dedication that becomes part of your marrow and never, ever leaves you.

Personally, I miss the fact that you always knew where you stood in the military, and who you were dealing with. That’s because you could read somebody’s uniform from 20 feet away and know the score.

Service personnel wear their careers on their uniforms, so to speak. When you approach each other, you can read their nametag, examine their rank and, if they are in dress uniform, read their ribbons and know where they’ve served.

I miss all those little things you take for granted when you’re in the ranks, like breaking starch on a set of fatigues fresh from the laundry and standing in a perfectly straight line military formation that looks like a mirror as it stretches to the endless horizon. I miss the sight of troops marching in the early morning mist, the sound of boot heels thumping in unison on the tarmac, the bark of drill instructors and the sing-song answers from the squads as they pass by in review.

To romanticize military service is to be far removed from its reality, because it’s very serious business — especially in times of war. But I miss the salutes I’d throw at senior officers and the crisp returns as we crisscrossed with a “by your leave sir.”

I miss the smell of jet fuel hanging heavily on the night air and the sound of engines roaring down runways and disappearing into the clouds. I even miss the hurry-up-and-wait mentality that enlisted men gripe about constantly, a masterful invention that bonded people more than they’ll ever know or admit. I miss people taking off their hats when they enter a building, speaking directly and clearly to others and never showing disrespect for rank, race, religion or gender.

Mostly, I miss being a small cog in a machine so complex it constantly circumnavigates the Earth and so simple it feeds everyone on time, three times a day, on the ground, in the air or at sea.

Mostly, I don’t know anyone who has served who regrets it, and doesn’t feel a sense of pride when they pass through those gates and re-enter the world they left behind with their youth.

Face it. We all miss it. Whether we had one tour or a career, it shaped our lives.

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