Wednesday, July 23, 2008

27 Years Is Long Enough

My retirement ceremony was last Friday. Though I don't actually become a civilian for slightly over another two months, Friday was theoretically my last day in uniform. It was a day marked by moments, shared by those dearest to me.

There was a last jump, accompanied by people with greater significance in my personal skydiving world than some even knew. In the photo below are one of the two sisters who assembled the jump suit I'm wearing (given to me as a father's day gift by my daughters over eight years ago), a new cadet member of the Wings of Blue Parachute Team, the staff member who's helping shepherd the cadet team into the future by contributing his seriously sick skills to both the wing suit syllabus and the free fly program, a member of the world-record canopy relative work formation from November 2007, and my longtime friend Marty. Marty has been part of more skydiving milestones than I can list here, and has likely forgotten more about skydiving than I may ever know. He was a Senior Airman at the academy when I was a cadet. He taught me the basics and signed the first five jumps I ever entered into a skydiving log.

After opening, I hung out above everyone for a while, being sure to take in the view one last time, as I'll probably never be suspended under fabric in that particular piece of airspace again, ever. At the bottom end, my friend Buzzard captured in digits the final fraction of a second of what was almost certainly my last flight under an Air Force canopy:

The ceremony itself was followed by refreshments, the centerpiece of which was a cake my daughter spent most of the day prior making from scratch, complete with a skydiver under canopy. She got the detail right, down to the relative work "grippies" on the suit, the helmet visor, and the number of cells in the canopy:

And around the edge, my assignment history:

It was a very small ceremony. I'd planned it that way. My closest friends were there. And I was honored to look up and see none other than Jay "the Piper" standing in the back of the room.

In some respects, it was a day like any other day. And in others, it was surreal from start to finish. Mostly, I was just glad when it was over. People have asked if I felt different. Mostly the answer's been no. But today, reality hit. What did it? I was sitting on the porch, looking at housing options where I'm headed next, and I heard the Otter passing overhead. In the past, my thought pattern on hearing that has always been to consider whether it would be worth my time to head down to the squadron for a jump. Most days lately, I've had too much to do, and the decision has always been not to. But today was the first day that I've had to hear that and consciously think, "There goes a plane I'll probably never board again." That was reality. That was about the only thing I'm really going to miss. That I'll miss the great men and women I've had the honor of serving with, in every service, should go without saying. "Above all," I'll miss the people, but I'm still glad to be done. :-)