Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Farewell From Kuwait

Thursday 17 July 2008

The Army has a tradition known as the “Hail and Farewell”. It is a way of welcoming new members of the command, and saying farewell to those who are leaving. When I was on active duty, we had a hail and farewell every month or two for the officers in our battalion. We’d go out to dinner at a nice restaurant someplace (the coolest one I ever remember was in a castle in the village of Rossbach, between Hanau and Giessen. (I liked that place so much that afterwards I used to ride my bike up there all the time).

Anyway, it was a nice time to connect with the other officers and their wives socially, and to relax a little bit. The officers being hailed would get a chance to introduce themselves, and the officers being farewelled would make a few parting remarks (after being thoroughly roasted by their peers, of course). It was a lot of fun, and I looked forward to the occasions.

Well, the Army has changed a lot, and now (at least here) the distinctions between officers and enlisted have been pretty much erased. There is next to nothing that is exclusive for officers, and we pretty much live elbow-to elbow with everybody. I’m not sure how much of that is because we’re in a combat zone, and how much is due to underlying cultural change in the Army. Since there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as an Officer’s Club on active Army posts in CONUS anymore, I am inclined to believe it’s more the latter.

In any case, the tradition of the Hail and Farewell has been preserved, but in this case it involved the entire battalion staff, not just the officers. They did mine by surprise, so I didn’t have a chance to prepare any remarks and did it off the cuff. I thought was going to a meeting, and the next thing I knew I was up in front of a group being farewelled. The commander said some nice things about me, and they gave me a nice memento – a glass desktop plaque in the shape of an American flag with an inscription:

080717 Farewell Plaque
Originally uploaded by

Then I had a chance to say a few things. I suppose I should have thought this through in advance, since I knew it was coming sooner or later, but I’d been so busy that I had to “wing it”. But here is more or less what I said:

“Thank you very much. It’s true I’ve been here a long time. In fact, I don’t know if there’s anybody in this room who was here when I got here (it turned out there was one Staff Sergeant who had been there, gone home, and come back again). That is one of the disadvantages of staying so long – there isn’t really anybody around who remembers what it was like when you got here, and who can appreciate the work you’ve done.

One of the advantages of staying here longer is that you get a chance to follow through on things that might otherwise have been left hanging. People rotate in and out of here so fast that we don’t always get a chance to see our ideas materialize into results. I’ve been able to get a few more things done, because I had the time to follow through. But it’s not only because of that, it’s because of the people who I had working with me. That’s another disadvantage of staying so long – now that it’s time to leave, the people who made it possible for me to succeed are not here for me to thank them. And I have to say, the only reason I was able to get anything done was because of the NCO’s who worked for me.

When the Chief of Staff of the 377th TSC walked into my office with an NCO in tow and said “You need another NCO - this is SSG Vorwerk, and he is going to work with you”, it was a godsend. That man was amazing – he really got things done! Once he got his arms around the job, I was finally able to back off from the day-to-day stuff, sit down, and do the things officers are supposed to do – plan ahead, get projects started, and generally be proactive and forward-thinking. And when the time came for him to leave, I was lucky to get another NCO you all know – SFC Renfro. He was the most customer-service oriented person I have ever worked with – he really cared about people, and wanted to help them in any way he could. And now that he’s gone it looks like I’ve gotten lucky again with SFC Monah – he is a very capable NCO, and I’m sure he’ll continue do a great job after I’m gone.

Without these NCO’s, I could not have gotten half as much done as I did. You know what I’m talking about – you all know who does the work. I was very fortunate to have the luxury to be able to leave things in their hands and work on forward-looking projects. I’ve also appreciated all the things you people here on the staff have done to support me and help make it possible to accomplish the things we did.

The commander said something about me being irreplaceable, and that’s a nice thing to say, but I have to address that. A famous person, and I always forget who it was , once said “The cemeteries of the world are filled with indispensable men”. (aside – it was Charles De Gaulle). If you want to see how indispensable one person is, just put your finger in a bucket of water, then pull it out and look at the hole.

I know that ARCENT will go on after I’m gone. We all do our best to try to leave things a little better than they were when we found them, but we know others will step in and take our place when we’re gone and keep moving the ball forward. I’ve tried to do my best here, and I’ll try to do the same in my next job. Thank you.”

Not exactly a polished speech, and of course there are lots of things I thought of afterwards that I would have liked to have said, but that’s the way it goes.

Then the commander came up and shook my hand, and lo! He gave me an STB coin. I think this coin is the coolest one I’ve gotten yet:

080717 STB Coin Obverse
Originally uploaded by

080717 STB Coin Reverse
Originally uploaded by

Now I’m wrapping things up and trying to leave them as well-documented and un-screwed-up as possible under the circumstances. The job is never done, and you can never just stop, so there are lots of projects getting started that other people will just have to finish. In a couple of weeks I’ll move on to a new position, and, like the Army Song says, “The Army keeps rolling along”.

Mood: Productive
Music: Silence


At 23:53, Blogger membrain said...

Wow. That is the coolest coin I've ever seen. Pearl handled pistol and all. Have great trip.

At 14:16, Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post - From the Front: 07/20/2008 - News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

At 15:30, Blogger Brad said...

Being a pistol shooter and collector as well as a military history afficionado, I must point out that his pistols had ivory grips, not pearl.

In General Patton's own words: "Only a pimp in a New Orleans whorehouse or a tin-horn gambler would carry a pearl-handled pistol."


At 20:04, Blogger Materiel Grrl said...

I saw this link on Stand To today. It took me about 10 minutes to figure out who you were, especially when you mentioned the two sergeants.

Welcome back.

As much crap as we gave you (I can only account for what was dished out from the 377th 06-08 group) your efforts did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Thanks for the little stuff, like getting cool air to run through the ducts in bldg 506. That means much during a 12 hour work day.


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