By Airman Kevin Sommer Giron
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause,” a quote from President Abraham Lincoln.
Today, many veterans have made it their responsibility – long after they have traded in their uniforms for civilian attire – to continue caring for their fellow service members.
According to the 2015 Statistical Report on the Military Retirement System, over 2 million military retirees live in the U.S. That is 2 million friends, neighbors or family members who have sacrificed their time, body and mind to the freedom Americans enjoy today. But some continue to serve even after their call of duty.
Retirees who serve at the 19th Airlift Wing Retiree Activities Office continue their service to their nation by ensuring veterans have the resources and support system needed to transition from military service, seek help in navigating the process in attaining military benefits or simply providing a support system for those who still need the camaraderie offered while serving alongside their brothers and sisters in arms.
For retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Donald Smith, a director for the base RAO, the transition from active-duty service into the civilian sector allowed him the opportunity to reflect on what left the greatest impression on him while serving.
“What do I miss most? The people,” said Smith, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1968 to 1998. “I miss it because I’m not able to have an input and impact on people’s lives in that manner.”
For retired U.S. Army Col. Henry Ward, it was about continuing to serve the people who honored their nation by serving in the military.
“The main reason this country is what it is today is because of (the veterans) who fought for our freedoms and believed in this country,” said Ward, who served 37 years in the Arkansas Army National Guard from 1955 to 1992.
Together, along with other volunteer retirees, the RAO staff continues their service by helping Arkansas’s 25,817 strong retiree community.
Some of the things the RAO provides is assistance with the Veteran Affairs system and other processes veterans may need to enact.
“We try to put out information to all branches of the service that need help as far as pay, lost records, referrals to the VA, coordinating (help) with benefits that they deserve and do not have at the moment – things of that nature,” Ward explained.
Taking care of people is a characteristic instilled throughout service member’s careers. For Ward and Smith, it was this principle they apply to serving the tight-knit retiree community they are a part of. Helping others is not a choice, but rather what they always have done and continue to do.
“During my enlistment, I saw a lot of retirees that didn’t have a place to go or have anyone to talk to when they had a problem,” Smith said. “This program gives a retiree a place to come to and have a face-to-face discussion with an individual about any problem they might have.”
Because the RAO takes great pride in providing a sense of community to Veterans, they look for opportunities to connect retirees. One way they do that is with their main annual event: Retiree Appreciation Day.
“It’s the most special event we do on Retiree Appreciation Day,” Ward said. “I would love to see all active-duty personnel on base come by and see what goes on!”
Retiree Appreciation Day is Oct. 22, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is scheduled to be held at the Walters Community Support Center on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The event will boast an array of informational booths open to all Team Little Rock in support of Arkansas’s retiree community.