I just got back from a retirement ceremony and luncheon for MSG (Master Sergeant) W. He's a great guy, and I'm a little sad to see him leave. He's been in the army since he was 17. Now he's returning to civilian life for the first time in 22 years. It was strange to see him in a suit instead of BDUs.
When I first started working here, all the ceremonies I attended (promotions, presentations, retirements, etc.) felt a little silly somehow... contrived. Each promotion was just like the last one. It didn't feel meaningful or personal at all. It felt empty.
But I think part of what a ceremony special and important is its uniformity. The fact that your ceremony is the same as the last guy's doesn't mean that someone just pulled out the appropriate protocol and read through it. It means that your ceremony will be performed according to the highest army standards. Everyone involved will put time and energy into all of the necessary details. It will be rehearsed and polished. Taking the time to ensure a perfect ritual is a way to show respect and gratitude for the person of honor. Being the recipient of such a ritual is meaningful.
Today's ceremony went well. After the official party processed in, SSG B. sang the national anthem. It was a little too pop-y for my taste, but at least he has a nice voice. LTC R. gave an introduction. She focused a lot on MSG W.'s famly, acknowledging their support and their sacrifice. Next was the flag presentation. It started in the arms of a private and got passed up in rank (private first class, specialist, sergeant, staff sergeant, sergeant first class) until it finally got to the master sergeant. Visually beautiful - all those crisp movements, the perfectly assembled dress uniforms. More remarks, highlighting MSG W.'s character and career. Then MSG W. spoke: thanked his family for their support and sacrifice, told us how much they mean to him, talked about what it means to be leaving the army after 22 years. One more song, "To Dream the Impossible Dream", which seemed really cheesy to me, and then the reception line.
Going to these things makes me think about what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America and to be patriotic. It renews my respect for those serving our country, people for whom patriotism is very concrete. It's a good feeling to have when you're disgusted with Bush.