Ice cream to ice-cold beer

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Atticus C. Smith
  • 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing
Serving as a command chief provides unique opportunities. One is being able to attend various retirement ceremonies. Most of the time I know the person retiring, but sometimes I'm invited merely based on being the command chief.

Regardless of how well I know the person, I try to make as many retirements as possible. It's not something I have to do; it's something I want to do. And don't think it's because of the reception afterwards where there tends to be a choice of treats ranging from ice cream to ice-cold beer. I attend because I'm always intrigued as to what stories the honoree will tell. I've learned a common theme prevails.

When retirees reflect on their careers, it's very common for them to speak fondly of the friends and people they have gotten to know and the sense of purpose and pride they have serving their nation. Rarely, if ever, are stories of frustrations and stress-filled days spoken about. Although, we all know that there are plenty of those stories to choose from. I wonder if those stories just naturally melt from memory lane, like ice cream in the hot sun...a treat I often enjoyed growing up.

Recently, after eight years of not being home, I visited my hometown of Walton, N.Y. Growing up with four brothers and numerous neighboring children to play with, we often enjoyed ice cream on the hot summer days. I'm not quite sure if either of us pondered where life would lead us, but it's easy to ponder where life has led us when returning home. The only difference during this hot summer afternoon was that it wasn't over ice cream, but over an ice-cold beer.

I sat on the large front deck of my childhood home and stared at the long driveway. I saw the young, scared and timid boy with chubby cheeks and a chubby belly slowly being driven away in a white Ford van en route to the airport then to basic training. As I sipped on my beer, I can only shake my head at the sight.

I was an unguided soul. I really had no clue about anything, very limited direction and just enough discipline to stay out of jail. As I reflect back, I can't help but thank those who shaped me and took responsibility of me.

I thank the NCOs and senior NCOs. From the onset of basic training through my first duty assignment they were there, and what a grave responsibility they had. They turned a young boy into a young man with the delicate balance of direction, discipline and recognition. Eventually I became one of "them," an NCO responsible for someone's son or daughter. What a grave responsibility I had, but thankfully I still had the direction and discipline from my peers as well as the senior NCO tier.

As I neared the end of my beer, I felt immensely fortunate that their influence helped provide me an opportunity for a long career. Across the years there have been so many good times, good friends and good memories. Tough missions, challenges and shortfalls have been there. However, the focus, commitment and dedication by Airmen to overcome the odds is like no other.

From the corner of my right eye, my mom's flag moved gently in the summer breeze. A flag was flying the day I hopped in the van, but Old Glory means so much more to me than it did when I was 18. I'm grateful to be a small part of a team that protects and secures America's freedoms and liberties, just as they have been protected by noble men and women for the past 235 years.

I realized my thoughts closely mirrored the stories I've heard during retirement ceremonies and began to wonder how many similar stories are beginning.

How many other sons and daughters from Walton are being driven to the airport? Are they as lost as I was? Are they as nervous as I was? Who will be the NCOs and senior NCOs responsible to serve them? Will I be one of them? I sure hope so, I couldn't think of a better way to return the decades of investment made in me.

If not sons or daughters from Walton, I know there are many of our national treasures from various parts of the world arriving at my current base each day. What a grave responsibility we have to them.

As I took my last sip, reminiscing on memory lane comes to an end. Or maybe it was time for some ice cream.

Bring credit and honor to the U.S. Air Force and take care of each other in all your actions.