Civilian in Training

By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.


The Colonel has gone and done it. She has done what we refer to in the military as “she dropped her papers.” She has formally notified the US Air Force that she is going to retire from active duty. In the civilian world, when you retire from a company you are done. You buy the motor-home, never to darken the doors of your former employer again. In the military you never really retire. Your monthly payment from the Department of Defense is considered a retainer, just in case they need your services down the road.

After 7 December 1941 a large group of very old service members who thought they were done wearing a uniform were called back to active duty until the end of the war. There were some rather old NCOs working military recruiting offices, who should have been out fishing. This recall stuff is not what my wife wants to consider. She wants to be a civilian for good, after 29 years, 9 months and 27 days of active duty service in the U. S. Air Force.

She originally joined the active duty Air Force because she only had to sign up for three years and the reserves wanted her for six years. 29 plus years later she is still in uniform. She followed me around on active duty for a year and a half when she figured that military stuff was not so hard and she knew she could do it. I retired from active duty and have been following her around ever since.

It looks like we are moving to Wisconsin, where a lot of folks do not even know there really is a military, other than what they see on TV. We will, however, spend our winters in Oklahoma. When you live in a purely civilian community where there is no obvious military presence, retired soldiers are kind of an oddity. The civilians ask you questions, but they don’t get it when if comes to the military.

I have enrolled the Colonel in remedial civilian training. She had a four day weekend over Memorial Day weekend and we worked hard on her military-to-civilian indoctrination. First off, no uniform wearing and no talking about the Air Force; shop-talk was not allowed. There was no watching the Military Channel on TV. We did watch the Memorial Day concert on the steps of the US Capital, but that was a Veteran thing, not a military thing. The Colonel wore civilian cloths, not to include any of the many t-shirts she has with Air Force logos on them. This was not anti-military training; that will never be our desire.

This was “getting ready to be a civilian” training. It is OK not to come to attention in your living room when the Air Force song is played on TV. We talked about when I would remove the .50 caliber machine gun rack from the top of her Hummer vehicle, but we set no firm date for removal. Don’t want to push the stress button too soon. The brackets on the front bumper of her truck used to hold the flags will stay on for a little while longer. You never know when you could be in a veteran / military parade. We are going to start emptying some of the sandbags we have filled and stacked up, ready to go just in case. Both of the family dogs will convert to being pets and we will drop the K9 working dog title for Maggie and Libby, our four legged babies. The family dinning room will no longer be referred to as the chow hall.

We had civilian friends at our home during the weekend, people who had never been in the military. We talked about civilian things. The civilian in training must be working a little because, come Tuesday morning, a duty day for the Colonel, I had to push her out into the garage and gently force her into her vehicle. She did not want to go back to the Big Air Force. There is no doubt she is ready to retire and take off the uniform she has worn for almost 30 years. Now, as long as Korea does not turn into a shooting war and stop-loss does not force her to stay on active duty, I believe we are headed to retirement and the land of civilians. We are holding our breath.




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Copyright 2012 by Major Van Harl, USAF Ret. All rights reserved.

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