In April 2002, I retired from the United States Air Force after 27 years of service. Recently, I found my retirement speech, and I thought it would be "cool" to present it here.
First, I’d like to thank General Boots, Colonel Voorhies, Colonel Lorimor and his wife, Sherry; and to the members of the 33rd Flight Test Squadron, thanks to you all for coming. Although, I suspect some of you guys are out here JUST to make sure I DO actually retire. To Brian Fortner and Tom Moriarty, thanks for folding my retirement flag. I’d like to give a special thanks to Ken Gibson for putting all this together, and to all the 33rd members who made this ceremony happen. And finally, thanks to all my friends for finding the time to come out.
I hadn’t intended to read my goodbye words, but my parents and family couldn’t be here today, and I want to make sure I get this right for the video. Hi Mom!
Well, I can’t believe it’s all over. 28 years ago, I first put my hand in the air and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. It seems like just yesterday.
I’d like to now give due to those in my family who have inspired me to last this long in service to this great country. Like my Great Uncle Bud Samuel Spear, who was killed on December 20, 1944 at Bastogne, in The Battle of the Bulge. He was a sergeant pilot with the 327 Glider Infantry Regiment attached to the 101st Airborne Division. Recently, I calculated that Bud was born the same year, 1907, as the actor, John "Duke" Wayne. The “Duke” USED to be one of my inspirations, but that has changed. Instead of laying it on the line, and risking life and limb for his country, John Wayne decided HIS talents were better put serving in safer movie-making pursuits. Not so my Uncle Bud, who gave everything he had, as President Lincoln said, “The last full measure.”
Another inspiration is my dad, who served 20 years from 1950 to 1970. I watched him go to work everyday in his uniform, and I was lucky enough to get to watch him march in several parades back when the Air Force still routinely did such things. My dad was a definite influence on my decision to enlist, although he was very much against me joining the Marines. I knew exactly how he felt when my daughter decided to join the Army over three years ago.
My mom also inspired me, as I watched her devotion to my dad, and to us, throughout all those difficult years of HER service. She served her country every bit as much as he did in taking care of the family while he was gone for months at a time.
The list of my family who have served in the U. S. Armed Forces is extensive indeed. All my dad’s brothers did so—my Uncle Nelson was an army medic during the war in Europe; my Uncle Keith was in the Army Air Corps and served during the trying months of the Berlin Airlift; his son, my cousin Mike, served in Vietnam; my Uncle Dale was wounded, shot through the stomach in Korea; two of my mother’s brothers served in war, Uncle Bill in Korea, and Uncle Jim in Vietnam. My brother, Kevin, served two hitches in the Air Force back in the Cold War era of the 70s and 80s.
Another great source of inspiration has been watching my kids, Marie, Joshua, and Rebecca, as they grew up, at times with me around, but more often with me not. All in all, all three of them are doing well, and they are contributing members of society. Now, my daughter, Marie, is going into the final year of her four-year enlistment in the Army. She’s currently in the middle of a tour in Korea, not far from the DMZ. Josh is fighting his own private war to stay healthy and happy with juvenile-onset-diabetes; I’m pleased to say he’s doing better than ever. Rebecca dreams of joining the Air Force, so there is a very real possibility that another Spear will soon be joining the ranks. I’m proud of them all.
The fact that I’ve had an interesting career is only gravy. The REAL satisfaction has been SERVING, to be a part of something bigger than myself. Being able to be a part of history has been priceless. And to be a part of the greatest, most powerful military force in the history of mankind has been not only a pleasure, but also a privilege.
If I had to sum up my career in one word, it would have to be: “Cool!” For instance, I spent a year in equatorial West Africa, in the country of Liberia, during my time in the Marines. I’ve never felt more appreciated, than while I guarded the American Embassy in the capital city of Monrovia. The American embassy personnel knew that we’d do whatever was necessary to protect them if things got ugly. Not long after I left there, it got VERY ugly, and my successors saved a lot of Americans, and other foreigners, caught up in the middle of a civil war. Damn, I just missed it!
When I switched services 22 years ago, I started out as the honor graduate in my technical school, and I thought, ‘Hey, this is neat!’ Then I got to my first assignment, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, in North Carolina. I reported in, and found the entire base was being punished for having just failed an Operational Readiness Inspection or ORI. My new shop had been on 12-hour shifts with no days off for weeks, and there was no let up in sight. ‘Oh man,’ I thought, ‘this Air Force stuff sucks!’ It could only get better from there, and after a couple months if did.
You see, in the Marines, back in the 70s, no one ever actually FAILED an inspection. Here’s how it went: The inspectors showed up, and we took them out and showed them a good time, usually involving lots of alcohol. Then, we got most of our planes in the air, which was a feat in itself, while other inspectors made sure we had all our Regs hanging on all the proper clipboards. On the last day, we demonstrated our physical fitness and that’s when it became MY time to shine. See, back then I could run 3 miles in 17 minutes, pump out 20 chin-ups, and pop out 80 sit-ups in a minute. Naturally, the Colonel would want to meritoriously promote the guy who just aced the physical fitness test—and that would be Me! Here’s the conversation between the inspecting general and me as I was promoted: The general would say, “Corporal, how do you keep your shirt tucked so perfectly into your trousers?” Briskly, I replied, “Sir, garter belts, sir!” The general nodded knowingly, saying, “Damn straight son. Every squared away marine wears ‘em.” “Aye aye Sir!” I agreed.
I’ve been all over the world, in every clime and place. For instance, in ’96 I did a test that took me over the North Pole in the spring, and I actually LANDED on the South Pole that autumn. To top it off, to get to Antarctica we went through Hawaii, Pago Pago, and New Zealand. Now that was REALLY Cool!
I’ll never forget certain airplanes during my maintenance days that really made me earn my money to get ‘em flying. On a rotation to “Moldyhole,” or Mildenhall Air Base, England; I flew into the U.K. in one of our birds that kept “frying” compass amplifiers. We tried everything, and every morning that damn airplane waited for me to give it MY shot at fixing it. It took me over a week to figure it out, and even though I wasn’t the most experienced technician there, it was me that got the job done. Those are the kinds of small victories that you NEVER forget.
I remember repairing one of the aircraft avionic systems I was responsible for on a C-5 transport in Yokota Air Base, Japan during a “Red Streak.” A Red Streak is when a technician gets called out to repair an aircraft just before take off, so the pressure to get it done quickly is enormous, but it’s also very exciting. In short order, I troubleshot the problem to the malfunctioning component, changed it, checked it out, and signed off the forms. It was my last job of the night. I lived on the other side of the base, and I was on my bicycle heading for home, the sun just rising after a long and eventful midnight shift. I was rounding the end of the runway, when MY airplane taxied out in preparation of its impending takeoff. I pulled over into the grass to watch that huge bird wind up its four enormous engines, scream off down the runway and into the sky. You know how it felt KNOWING that I had something to do with that? It felt COOL! I still remember the joy and satisfaction of watching that plane take off as the sun burned off the last of the morning haze.
Man, I can think of a dozen incredibly tough jobs that really taxed my abilities. Each one taught me something new, about my systems, and more importantly, about myself. The primary thing I learned—Never give up, because there’s always something else to try! I’ve been a supervisor at some level pretty much the entire time I’ve been in the Air Force, and I’ve always tried to impart that lesson to my troops.
And finally, one of the coolest things about my career took place over about a 4-year time frame from ’91 to ’95. That’s when I was in Quality Assurance and was placed in charge of the Contract Field Team at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. During that time, we gutted one C-130 aircraft after another, and refitted them with brand new avionics and electrical systems. That’s when I discovered how truly inadequate the military acquisition system can be. I could NOT believe how screwed up those brand new systems were. And so, it was fairly easy for me, in 1992, to be chosen as “Suggestor of the Year” for the base. For about three years, I had dozens of suggestions approved. I can safely say that I saved the Air Force enough money in that period, to have paid for ALL my active duty wages, AND all my retirement pay—probably twice over!
If I had my way, it would not yet end here today, especially while we find ourselves in the middle of a war. We are prevailing in Afghanistan, and we all know that Iraq is next. I wish to God I could go back and help you finish off the war that we should have been allowed to finish back in 1991.
It was my wish “to do 30,” and to finish up my career working with planes, and with the people who “put” those planes into the air—both the maintenance troops and the aircrew. Unfortunately for me, I needed to make Chief for that to happen. I think that my wife, Amalia, was even more disappointed than me when I didn’t make that last rank. She loves being an Air Force wife, and she wanted to get assigned overseas. And with her in mind, I’d like to call it a career. Most of us were born Americans; she wasn’t, and she, of all people, truly appreciates what we have here, and why the sacrifices we make are important in keeping our country great, and free! She worked hard to become a citizen, and to honor her today, I’d like to present to her my retirement flag. Thank you Amalia.
And with that, I am finished. I say with great sadness, that when I take off this uniform it will be for the last time.
You are all invited to stay with us in the Philippines after we move there later this year. Take care, thanks to you all, and please, let’s stay in touch!