11 July 2008

Paying honor to a retiring hero and friend

This week I went to a retirement ceremony for one of the leaders of our hospital when we deployed to Iraq. I don't go to too many ceremonies for hellos and goodbyes, because I really prefer small, quiet, informal gatherings to the pomp and circumstance of official events. But when I learned that Colonel N. was being honored, there was no way that I was missing it.

He has been a hardworking and loyal Airman for 27 years. In Iraq, he was the nurse commander and kept the place running day after day. He was a solid fixture in the hospital from dawn to dusk, and would make rounds with us to make sure that the patients were doing well. As he states it, the command nurse's job is to make sure that all his troops have what they need to give the best care to patients. Even after his duty day was over, there were many nights I found him in the hospital mentoring young troops and pitching in to help with the endless work.

On first meeting him, I was struck by his serious demeanor and his businesslike professionalism. But it didn't take long to see the depth of his warmth and caring. Whether it is comforting an injured child, or helping a troop handle a problem back home, he puts his heart and compassion into everything he does. I know this because he helped me when I was having hard times. After my grandmother died, his understanding and encouragement helped me get back in the game so I could do my part for the many injured we received. I owe him a lot of thanks. He knows my sense of humor so I'm sure he won't be surprised I dredged up this picture of him wearing antlers during the Christmas season in Iraq.

It has been an honor to serve with him, and I know that some organization out there is going to be very lucky to have him now that he is promoting to civilian. After the ceremony, I had the chance to have coffee with another one of my heroes, Nurse J., a reservist who ran the OR in Balad. I told her that I felt that no matter where life takes us, we who deployed together are going to have a love and respect for each other that is like no other bond in our lives. Through the difficulties we faced and the memories we wish we didn't have, I still feel lucky I now have these people in my life.

After all the awards, accolades, and testimonials, the retirement ceremony ended with the presentation of a flag that was flown over the hospital in Balad to Col N. The Color guard, with crisp uniforms, white gloves, and heel taps, performed a flag ceremony. They slowly marched out to the stage. They slowly and respectfully unfolded the flag, presented colors, and then refolded the flag. As they went through their expertly-executed maneuvers, a recording of John Wayne reciting the pledge of allegiance was played. I couldn't see that banner without thinking of so many who have done so much in it's defense. I thought of the boxes I have seen draped in those colors. I thought of the fine men and women I have the great fortune to serve with every day.

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