My Formal Retirement Ceremony from the US Army

MG Greene awarding me my retirement certificate
MG Greene presenting my retirement certificate

On 26 September 2013 I participated in my formal retirement ceremony conducted by the Old Guard at Conmy Hall at Ft. Myer, VA.  More pictures can be found at

Marcel "Frenchy" Lettre, Tommy, and Candy before the ceremony began
Marcel "Frenchy" Lettre, Tommy, and Candy before the ceremony began

Many family, friends, and co-workers attended, including Marcel “Frenchy” Lettre, who was my battalion commander when I was a company commander (above); my parents, mother-in-law, sister, and brother-in-law; a couple of folks I wargame with; and many of the people with whom I have been working.

The Old Guard color party
The Old Guard color party

I was disappointed when I learned that the ceremony would be indoors, but with the lowered lights and spotlights, the ceremony was terrific.

The Old Guard fife and drum corps
The Old Guard fife and drum corps
The US Army Band, "Pershing's Own"
The US Army Band, "Pershing's Own"
MG Greene providing comments on retirement from active duty
MG Greene providing comments on retirement from active duty

The presiding officer for these ceremonies is selected from the (many!) general officers stationed in the national capital region.  I was pleasantly surprised to know the presiding officer for my ceremony.  I had first worked with COL Greene when I was a PM at DARPA and he was PM Battle Command at Ft. Monmouth.  Then, when I was Chief of Staff for Research, Development, and Engineering Command, BG Greene was our deputy commander.  In fact, I attended his promotion ceremony to BG.  Now he is a major general working for the chief of Army acquisition.  He had nice comments to make to all us retiring soldiers and our families.

Thirty nine soldiers lined up to receive retirement certificates and flags
Thirty nine soldiers lined up to receive retirement certificates and flags

Thirty nine of us held our retirement ceremony Thursday morning.  Each of us received a retirement certificate and a folded US flag individually.  People asked why I opted for the ceremony at Ft. Myer rather than doing something at Ft. Meade.  First, at Ft. Meade it can be difficult to get visitors through the gates.  I think those who attended the ceremony would agree that it would be difficult to top the send off provided by the Old Guard.

The calm before the storm
The calm before the storm

The ceremony was in the middle of the day, so we scheduled a party for the evening when we thought more people would be able to attend.   When the smoke cleared, we think we had about 80 people attend.  Mark Ryan (right in the picture above) gets the award for having travelled the farthest to attend.  He tarred his driveway in the morning on Long Island, drove almost six hours to the party, stayed until about 2100, and then drove four hours home.

Candy giving instructions to Hannah, who generally managed the food during the party so we could concentrate on our guests
Candy giving instructions to Hannah, who generally managed the food during the party so we could concentrate on our guests

When I was a PM, we used to host about three events this size each year.  We quickly found that we spent so much time managing the food platters and drinks that we never got to spend time with our guests.  We typically hire a girl we know who we think can keep up with everything to manage this part of the party for us.  For this party, Hannah did a very good job helping us manage the party, keeping trays full, reheating food, taking out trash, etc.

While the guests initially broke into their “comfort” groups, we did try to encourage intermingling.

It was a nice day, despite my mixed feelings about taking off the uniform.  I will have to adjust to being “just another guy.”  Yesterday, I was in the mall and I was joking to my daughter that I didn’t want to go into a store with her that had “Navy” in the name.  She said “you’re not in the Army any more.”  That’s not exactly true.  A retiree from the Army is subject to recall to active duty until age 60.  More importantly, the Army isn’t just a job, or even a profession.  It’s even more than the camaraderie based on shared suffering, experiences, and accomplishments — even if any two people have never actually served together.  It’s a way of life, and there are many aspects of being a soldier and being a colonel that I will miss as I change my signature block from “Colonel, US Army” to “Colonel, US Army, Retired.”  I’ve been wearing the uniform of this nation for 32 years, beginning as a cadet at West Point.  While you can take the soldier out of the Army, I don’t think you can ever take the Army out of the soldier.

Getting ready for work my last day in the Army Combat Uniform
Getting ready for work my last day in the Army Combat Uniform

On a side note, I had lost my dog tags in an airport screening machine at BWI airport and didn’t notice it until the next day.  I’ve had that same set of dog tags for more than 20 years, and I wear them every day, including my time in Iraq, Korea, and Italy, through jump school and Ranger school, during hundreds of days in the field, so I was sad to lose them two days before my retirement.  Yesterday, I got a hold of TSA lost and found at BWI and learned that they found my dog tags, so I will be able to pick them up today.  After almost 30 years I have an emotional attachment to them, and I was sad that I might have lost them.  I guess that’s what comes of clean living.  

This Morning I was Important; This Afternoon I’m Just Some Guy

Today I completed my final out-processing from the Army and began what is ominously called “terminal leave.”  I will be on “terminal leave” the remainder of the week and then return to work on Monday as the deputy of the technology development program in which I was one of several project managers.  It’s interesting and important work.  Most importantly it will allow me to keep my kinds in one school throughout high school.  Today I wore my Army Combat Uniform (ACU’s) for the last time, which made me sad.  Thursday I wear the Army Service Uniform (ASU) (the dress blue uniform) for the last time during my formal retirement ceremony.

WWII Skirmish Idea, part 6 (I think)

I’ve continued to think about the WWII skirmish ideas while running.  Today I had both a six-mile run and a two-hour plane trip to think about this.  I have been wanting to simplify the cards a bit while also wanting to address indirect fire in a more streamlined fashion.

In the top third of the card, I thought all the modifiers and things looked too cramped and busy.  It occurred to me that the players could start in the right “column” and then apply fewer column shifts.  So in the example above, all the cards have the “EVT” labels under the first three “columns,” standing for expert, veteran, and trained, the three ratings for accuracy and melee.

I had envisioned a multi-step process using the existing mechanisms for resolving HE and other forms of indirect fire:  flip a card to see if you hit the right area [if no, then scatter], then flip a card to see if where you wanted to hit is blocked (e.g., by a window) [if so, then scatter], then figure out which figures are in the short, medium, and long radii from the point of the blast, then flip a card to determine if each figure was hit, then for each figure hit, flip a card to determine wound location.  Argh!  One can imagine the game coming to a screeching halt and folks heading out for a meal every time someone throws a grenade!

It occurred to me that I could make three octagons that are just “rings.”  These would be different sizes, representing different blast radii for indirect fire.  While a bit of an oversimplification, the smallest one would be for grenades, the second would be for small mortars (say 81mm and below), and the larger one would be for large mortars and artillery.

The process for throwing a grenade, for instance, becomes flip a card and look at the small numbers above the row of checks and x’s.  As with direct fire, the starting “column” used would based on the accuracy rating of the thrower.  The top row of numbers indicates the number of radii of scatter and the little knife indicates the direction.

Scatter distance examples
Scatter distance examples

In these examples, a veteran unit with no other modifiers would scatter two radii, zero radii, and one radius, respectively.  One can imagine that the scatter distance might be doubled for off-board artillery.  Or, you might imagine that HE fired in direct fire would use the radii as indicated on the cards, on-board indirect fire would double the scatter distance, and off-board artillery might triple the distance.  The beauty of this approach is that a weapon with a small burst radius thrown from a short distance, like a grenade, would scatter a smaller amount than a light mortar fired from some distance.  This was a problem I’ve tackled in different ways in other rules, such as BAPS.

Now, here is another nuance.  See the three blast symbols on the top figure?  They represent small, medium, and large burst radius weapons.  When all three are shown as indicated above, if the soldier is within the octagonal ring of either a small, medium, or large weapon, he has been hit, and you flip the next card for damage, just as with normal fire.  You would flip a card for for each figure in the burst radius.  Some convention might be used, like go from inside out or left to right.  The manner doesn’t really matter as long as one card is flipped for each figure.

There are 50 cards in the deck (plus two extras).  Twenty will be misses, meaning that the figure for which you are flipping takes no damage.  Ten will have all three symbols, ten will have just large and medium, and ten will have just large.  (I need to think about this math a little more, to make sure I’m including the right number of each type of effect.)  One can imagine ways to reduce this to one symbol showing the smallest radius weapon that scores a hit, so instead of having to use all three symbols, the “small” symbol would be read as “small or larger.”

What does this mean mathematically?

If there are four figures in the large burst radius, the expected number of casualties is 0.6 x 4 = 2.4.

If there are four figures in the medium burst radius, the expected number of casualties is 0.4 x 4 = 1.6.

If there are four figures in the small burst radius (a difficult task), the expected number of casualties is 0.2 x 4 = 0.8.

It might seem odd that everyone within the radius has the same probability of damage, but on average, I think it will work out fine.

See how this gets away from complicated templates, having to break out the calipers to determine who is in the short radius and who is within the medium radius, etc.

The HE procedure now is significantly streamlined from what was discussed above.  Now you flip one card to determine whether the round landed where you want it and determine the scatter direction and distance all on one card.  Then for each figure in the burst radius you flip one card for damage effect, ignoring the counting (which figure is hit) diagram.  Indirect fire, instead of being onerous, has just one more card flip (on average) than direct fire.  Pretty cool.

I’m going to bed now.

Backpacking Shenandoah National Park

Setting out

This past three-day weekend I went with the Venture Crew to backpack in Shenandoah National Park.  This was meant to be the kids’ first overnight, long-distance, back-country, backpacking trip in preparation for our planned trip to the Grand Canyon next Summer.  The kids did a very good job for their first trip of this kind.

Pizza Hut

After fighting our way through traffic in the global epicenter of stupid (DC), we stopped along 66 for dinner at Pizza Hut.  We then continued to Shenandoah National Park, arriving near 2200 at our camp site in Big Meadows camp ground.

The park entrance

The next morning we drove along Skyline Drive for about 50 miles stopping from time to time at scenic overlooks.  Unfortunately there was a mist covering the valley, so some of the views weren’t as spectacular as they might have been.

The tree

At one stop, some of the kids decided to climb a tree.  What isn’t clear from this picture is that the bottom limb on which the two girls are sitting was about eight or nine feet in the air.

The gang

At another stop the kids did some rock climbing.  These are all the kids who came on the trip, minus one girl who joined us later in the day.

On the march

After hiking a couple of miles on Saturday, the sky opened up, and we were drenched.  At one point we took refuge under a rock overhang while the storm passed.

Setting up camp

After hiking about three miles and linking up with our missing crew member we set up camp in a fern-covered area.  This was probably the first time that most of the kids had camped in a non-prepared, meadow-like camp ground with comfort facilities.  Setting up camp went well, and the kids enjoyed a good night.  Several of the girls kept the rest of us up quite late with their squeeling and giggling.

A welcome rest

Sunday was “death march” day.  We had planned to hike about six miles, but at the six-mile mark we were on the side of a steep mountain with few good sites to set up six or seven tents.  By the time we reached a decent campsite, we had marched over 10 miles over goat trails and rough terrain.  I’m proud of the way the kids kept up their spirits despite the exertion.

Setting up camp

Along the way we stopped at a stream to replenish our water bottles and soak our feet in the cool, swiftly-moving water.  Water purification techniques included filter systems and iodine tablets.

A stream crossing

Camping on a rock

We finally made camp on this rocky outcropping.  Again it was a new experience for many of the hikers to camp in an unimproved and less-than-ideal location.  Some of the kids found small patches of moss or grass on which to pitch their tents.  The boys ended up on a steep slope and spent the night sliding down inside their tents.  The good news was that the water soaked through their tent, so they got to be wet all night too!

The view from our rock

… But this was our view from our rocky campsite.  Wow!  I woke up about 30 minutes before the others and watched the mist passing between the various lines of mountains in the distance.  It was quite a morning.