Four Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took: Part 5

I stumble across all sorts of stuff in my archives, some of which has never seen the light of day.  Here’s #5 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures.  Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:

a.)  I’m in the photo or…

b.)  … I took the photo.

Nephew Andrew Kimes graduated from the Basic Parachutists Course at Fort Benning in the summer of 2003.  From left, me, Andy and Andy's mom and my sister, B.J.

Nephew Andrew Kimes graduated from the Basic Parachutists Course at Fort Benning in the summer of 2003. From left, me, Andy and Andy’s mom and my sister, B.J.

Garrett as Washington

Garrett and Nate visited Mount Vernon about a year or so ago and while we were there, I snapped this with my cell phone camera, dragged it into PhotoShop and aged the photo. (Garrett did not age abnormally from the process.)

Dan on TV

Me on television circa 1980 anchoring “Fort Gordon On The Move!” a weekly information program seen on tens of screens worldwide. 

Always loved this photo of Garrett and Nate being pursued by the late Bella.  They always loved to take Bella out for a romp in the back yard.

Always loved this photo of Garrett and Nate being pursued by the late Bella. They always loved to take Bella out for a romp in the back yard.

D-Day 70th Anniversary

Logo 2Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first day of the Normandy Invasion of World War II or D-Day as it is commonly known.   Ten years ago, many of my Army colleagues were in Normandy in support of the 60th anniversary commemorations as part of the Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. The Committee stands as one of the most rewarding assignments of my Army career.

I was privileged to meet many of the real heroes who helped save the world back in 1944. And make absolutely no mistake about it. They saved the world. That’s not an exaggeration of what these brave men and woman did who fought and sacrificed not just on D-Day, but during all of World War II.  Had the Allied Forces not invaded Normandy when they did, the world would probably look a lot different.

Much has been written about those brave men and woman who constitute Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” And I am neither competent nor qualified to write anything of substance on the matter. But suffice it to say that the WWII veterans I encountered during nearly two years with the World War II Committee demonstrated extraordinary strength of character, humility and heroism. There wasn’t one I met who didn’t earn every ounce of respect I could muster and then some.

My assignment to the World War II Committee turned out to be on a short list of most rewarding assignments I had in nearly 29 years in the Army. The Veterans made it so. But so did the other Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilian staff comprising the Committee’s roster.

MG Aadland announcing the start of OPERATION Tribute to Freedom in 2003.

MG Aadland announcing the start of OPERATION Tribute to Freedom in 2003.

Maj. Gen. Anders Aadland received the call to head the World War II Committee after successfully leading the Operation Tribute to Freedom Team. Tribute to Freedom was an ad hoc joint task force assembled by the Department of Defense to recognize service men and women upon their return from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. He did such an outstanding job that DoD tagged him to establish and lead the World War II Committee.

I had been Maj. Gen. Aadland’s Executive Officer on Tribute to Freedom, so he tagged me to help build the World War II Committee as its Chief of Staff and PAO. Retired Col. Larry Brom later came aboard as the Chief of Staff. I became the spokesman and Chief of Public Education and Awareness. Retired Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster later came in as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army to take over upon Maj. Gen. Aadland’s retirement.

Boston, Mass. (June 17, 2005) - Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Harry E. Soyster, right, presents LST Memorial Crew Captain Robert Jornlin with a World War II 60th anniversary commemoration medal, honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s World War II veterans. The vintage tank landing ship, which participated in the Normandy D-Day invasion, is docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard during Boston's Navy Week. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Dave Kaylor.

Boston, Mass. (June 17, 2005) – Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Harry E. Soyster, right, presents LST Memorial Crew Captain Robert Jornlin with a World War II 60th anniversary commemoration medal, honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s World War II veterans. The vintage tank landing ship, which participated in the Normandy D-Day invasion, is docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard during Boston’s Navy Week. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Dave Kaylor.

From April 2004 until December 2005, the Committee conducted and supported at least nine major World War II Commemorative events around the world and quite a few more smaller events including two on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Today, with the 70th anniversary of D-Day all over the news, my Facebook page has lit up with the names of some of my former colleagues from the committee. They’re all reminiscing about the unusually positive experience for each of us who served with the Committee. It really WAS a wonderfully positive assignment not just because of the veteran population we served but because of the outstanding people on the Committee. So I dug through some of my old photos and found the one “class photo” of the committee that was taken early on at the newly opened World War II Memorial on the National Mall.

Not everyone here is represented, since many on the Committee only served for a short time. The major players are there – people who established one of the most fun, supportive, rewarding and productive working environments I’ve ever experienced. Yes, we had lots of laughs, but we also did some terrific work in those nearly two years together. Here’s the photo of my colleagues many of whom still correspond. I count you all among friends and consider you all to be consummate professionals.

The Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee

The Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. Click to enlarge.

I’d be remiss if I were to fail to mention those from the Committee who are no longer with us:

Mr. Matt Boland
Ms. Sarah Hildebrand
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hagen, United States Army
Lieutenant Commander Jack Dunphy, United States Coast Guard

I continue to be honored to have served with you all.

In Defense of Eric Shinseki

Shinseki-F

I’ve spent the last couple of hours watching the interwebz light up like the proverbial Christmas tree over the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki. I will here and now openly admit my favorable bias toward him and his stellar military career. I met him when I was serving in Saudi Arabia in 2000.  I have his coin.  I was serving on active duty in the Pentagon when former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cut him off at the knees over his prescient notion that “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” would be necessary to stabilize a post-war Iraq. I was there when Rumsfeld named Gen. Shinseki’s replacement far earlier than is normally the case, essentially making him a lame duck Army Chief of Staff.

Upon retirement, he didn’t do any whining and complaining about what many consider to be his harsh, forced exit from the national stage. He didn’t write a tell-all book about the inner workings of the wartime Army. He didn’t engage in any schadenfreude at Rumsfeld’s subsequent failure to secure Iraq for lack of boots on the ground.  He didn’t dish. He retired quietly in the most honorable fashion. One cannot fault him for that nor blame him for that.

He was always media shy. I wasn’t his PAO during his tenure as Army Chief of Staff but as the Chief of the Army Senior Leader Support Team, I forwarded countless requests for interviews to his PAO both before and after those remarks and he always respectfully declined. So it’s no surprise to me that he didn’t make any noise and retired from public life with grace and dignity. (And it’s a style that I wish other retiring officers would emulate.)

Now this. It breaks my heart.

When the Senate Armed Services Committee asked him a question he gave them a straight answer. It was his obligation to do so in spite of pressures to do otherwise that are unimaginable to me. And I suspect he’d have done so even without the pressures. He did so at great professional peril and ended his Army career.

When called upon to tackle the VA, he answered the call quietly, as he always did. He was also handed a huge plate of shit, as it is common knowledge that the VA has always been the poster child for everything that a bureaucracy shouldn’t be.

Now we can argue all day about politics, leadership, accountability and a hundred other things that can be said about Shinseki’s time at the VA. Here’s MY bottom line: the rank and file government employees, managers, supervisors everywhere within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the arm of the VA which manages health care, failed him. He wasn’t the failure, THEY were. They failed to provide him with the information he needed to affect meaningful change. They failed to give enough of a damn about the care they were providing our veterans and went so far as to create methods to keep the bad news from the boss.  And everyone at the VHA shares the blame for Shinseki’s resignation and for every veteran who failed to get timely care.

Let me say that again: THEY are to blame for EVERY veteran who failed to get timely care.

Secretary Shinseki is a genuinely good man, outstanding military officer, and gifted leader; himself a wounded veteran. When he took over the VA, I was certain that our veterans were in good hands and that he would make a difference. Too bad the rest of the VHA couldn’t bother themselves to make a difference as well.

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took: Part 3

I haven’t posted lately, so here’s #3 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these photographic blasts from the past.  Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:

a.)  I’m in the photo or…

b.)  … I took the photo.

Now six-year-old Nathan returning from his first day of Kindergarten in September, 2013.  I hope his enthusiasm endures for all things academic.

Now six-year-old Nathan returning from his first day of Kindergarten in September, 2013. I hope his enthusiasm endures for all things academic.

Wolfe_Downs

Me and Mike Downs at the Grand Canyon of Saudi Arabia, circa 2001. Mike was the G-1 and I was the PAO of Army Forces Central Command – Saudi Arabia, a unit which no longer exists, to the best of my knowledge.

Left to right:  Shawn Woodbridge, Jeff Keane, Yours Truly, and Jeff's wife, Ethel Keane.  We were celebrating something or other at the Ritz Carlton's Suinday brunch in 2003.

Left to right: Shawn Woodbridge, Jeff Keane, Yours Truly, and Jeff’s wife, Ethel Keane. We were celebrating something or other (probably Jeff’s promotion to colonel) at the Ritz Carlton’s Sunday brunch in 2003. Shawn was a major at the time but was recently promoted to colonel as well. So it turns out that there’s three of ’em in this photo after all is said and done.

Nate's sixth birthday in 2013.  We were at Nate's choice of restaurant, Red Lobster, and Nate wanted to share something privately with his Mom, Beth.

Nate’s sixth birthday in 2013. We were at Nate’s choice of restaurant, Red Lobster, and Nate wanted to share something privately with his Mom, Beth.

 

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took: Part 2

Here’s #2 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures.  Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:

a.)  I’m in the photo or…

b.)  … I took the photo.

Carville&Wolfe

With James Carville at the Army Worldwide Public Affairs Symposium in 2006 . He and his wife, Mary Matalin, were the keynote speakers that evening and were tremendous. It was an honor to be there and to get to speak with Mr. Carville.

 

Cheney

I took this one at a reunion of World War II veterans at the WWII Memorial on a rainy day toward the end of my time with the WWII 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.

 

Jon&Andy2

This is an Alaska photo. I took this in the photo studio at Fort Richardson, Alaska when my sons Jon and Andy were far younger than they are now.

 

NatGarrettBallpark

I took this one just after Nate and Garrett ran the bases at a Potomac Nationals minor league game in the summer of 2013. Later that year, they’d attend a Cleveland Indians game and get to sit in one of the swanky VIP suites for their grandparents 25th wedding anniversary.

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took

I stumble across all sorts of stuff in my archives, some of which has never seen the light of day.  Here’s #1 in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures.  Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:

a.)  I’m in the photo or…

b.)  … I took the photo.

Youngest son Andy, Me, oldest son Jonathon and the ever-so-talented actor and great friend, Frank Simons many moons ago in California. Frank was one of the very first people I met when I moved to California in 1990. He and I have shared many discussions about politics, Star Trek, television and pretty much everything. He’s one of my most dear friends and miss our debates. There’s no one else I’d rather have an argument with!

 

Dan-Ben

Ben Vereen visited the Pentagon some months after 9/11 when I was working on the Army’s Crisis Action team. Great guy! So is Ben.

 

Look closely -- you'll see a laptop computer in-flight immediately prior to its demise.  We called this "Computer Assisted Suicide" and had a party to celebrate the passing of my laptop.  Acting as the Range Safety Officer is the late Lt. Col. Bob Hagen, who assured that we didn't drop the laptop on an unsuspecting vehicle.

Look closely — you’ll see a laptop computer in-flight immediately prior to its demise. We called this “Computer Assisted Suicide” and had a party to celebrate the passing of my laptop. (Needless to say, alcohol was served.) Acting as the Range Safety Officer is the late Lt. Col. Bob Hagen, who assured that we didn’t drop the laptop on an unsuspecting vehicle. He’s giving us the thumbs up at the top of the photo.

 

02620004

This was taken on the flight line at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, NV in 2005. With me is Retired Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster who was at the time the director of the World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. I was the Chief of Staff for awhile as well as the PAO for the Committee. This job and working with this fine gentleman was one of the highlights of my nearly 29 year Army career.

I Really Don’t Know What To Say

IIICorpsFirstly, my thoughts are with the families of those killed and injured in yesterday’s shooting at Fort Hood. I cannot imagine the boundless burden of grief they carry. But as Soldiers and their families most often do, I know they will do so with grace and dignity.

Watching the coverage unfold last night, I typed two words on my Facebook page: “Heavy heart.” I wasn’t able to watch that much of the coverage because of family commitments; story time for Nate and Garrett, the evening’s kitchen maintenance and the like. So I caught it in bits and pieces as I was able to tune in to TV news reports and check the print outlets online.

When Mr. Nidal Hasan shot up Fort Hood in 2009, I and pretty much every other reasonable person got angry.  Betrayal hurts and his was a huge betrayal.  Here was an enemy from within our own ranks. It was easy to feel angry and betrayed by that lunatic.  (And I’m being extraordinarily kind when I use the word “lunatic.”  You should have seen what I wrote in there the first draft.)  Once his appeals are exhausted, I sincerely want the military to execute him, though no one has been executed by the military since 1961. If anyone deserves it, it is Hasan.

This time, there’s no enemy.  I am filled with sorrow.  No anger, just sorrow.

This Is Just Between Us, Right?

I’m going to admit it:  I miss being in the Army.

It’s heresy to admit you miss it once you’ve been retired from active military service.  Most people can’t wait to retire, take all their old uniforms to the post thrift shop for consignment and do something different.

I was like that at first.

When I finished my 20 years of active duty (jammed into a nearly 29 year overall Army career), I was ready to retire. Lucky for me that the law requires officers like me who hold Reserve commissions to retire when they rack up 20 active years of service.  This keeps the most senior jobs open for those officers with regular Army commissions – the professionals, as it were.  So even if I could have found another job in uniform, by law I couldn’t have taken it.  I had done and accomplished far more than I ever expected but there was really nowhere left for me to go. 

It had been a crappy couple of years.  Late in 2005, my marriage failed and failed spectacularly.  A few weeks after that, I changed assignments. (Changing jobs is reported to be one of the more stressful life experiences and a new assignment is essentially the same.)  Late in 2006, nearly a year after we separated, my spouse was diagnosed with breast cancer.   I became her caregiver throughout her recovery.  The day in August that I had my retirement ceremony was the day after she completed her last radiation treatment and was declared cancer free.  At the ceremony, she got a standing ovation when I shared with my colleagues and friends her courage and determination.  I had gained about 40 lbs. by then.

Those last nearly two years were just plain miserable.  I did my best at work, but I wasn’t all there most of the time.  I emerged from all that beaten and defeated.

I was a hot mess.

I retired on November 1st, 2007 and within a few months, took a government contracting job supporting an Army agency.  It took me awhile to make that transition from colonel to contractor, but I did it.   I only answered the phone as “Colonel Wolfe” once.

Time passed.  I grew apart from the Army in many ways.  I still subscribed to the Department of Defense news service to keep track of my friends and former colleagues who got promoted to general officer ranks.  I continued to receive and read the Army’s daily feature “Stand To!”   And I still sorta felt like a part of it.

After about four years of the contracting job, nearly two years of unemployment and near financial ruin, I got hired about two months ago to work as a government employee at another Federal agency.  A couple weeks ago, I turned off all the military themed news feeds and email blasts because I’m not reading them and when I do, the people, terms and acronyms are generally unfamiliar to me now.

I wore a uniform of some sort since I was high school.  By the time I entered the Army in 1979, I was well aware that I was a part of something that was way bigger than me.  Of course, as I navigated my very odd and by Army standards very unconventional career, I came to appreciate being a part of it and knowing that even when I was sitting in a TV production truck among my entertainment industry colleagues, I was still a part of the Army.  Still belonging.  Still immersed in a system of doing business that I understood and in which I was comfortable and successful.

There are still quite a few uniforms hanging in a closet upstairs.  Not like I even notice them, or take them out or anything quite like that.  But they’re there, just down the hall just like the military school uniforms I’ve carried all over the world since I graduated back in 1976.  More and more, I need the closet space, so that stuff is going to be out of there one of these days when I get the urge to reorganize.  But since they’re all stored in an out-of-the-way closet, it’ll probably be there for a while unless I make a honest effort.  The likelihood of that actually occurring is questionable.

Most of the time, I don’t give it much thought.  I don’t actively sit around wringing my hands lamenting that my Army career is done.  But I gotta tell you, there are days.  Usually when I’m out on post for some reason, all of the positive feelings about being a part of the Army come to the forefront of my consciousness.  I drive past old haunts on post, much as I do when I’m in my home town in Ohio.  Mom says I like to drive around and make sure that everything’s where I left it and I think she’s right.  And I think I do that for the familiar Army haunts as well.

You can say what you want about the Army and trust me, Soldiers do.  I know I did.  For me, the Army was my life long companion.  And like all long-term companions, our relationship had its ups and downs.  The Army provided me with more than a job and income and a title.  I carry with me so much experience and so many positive lessons that I learned in 29 years.  It’s a welcome part of me.

But there are days when I long to be back in uniform.  It’s not every day, and it’s not even most days.  Frankly, memories of the last two horrendous years of my career keep me from really savoring the success of the other 27.  I don’t like thinking about that.  But when I go on post even just to the commissary I find myself standing a little taller and walking a little more smartly. I find myself exchanging more smiles and everyday courtesies with everyone I encounter.  It’s such a strong, positive, shared professional and cultural experience.  I realize how much I miss it when I’m back on post and immersed in it like that again.

I miss it.  There, I said it.  Out loud and everything.