Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Retirement Speech for Jon 4-1-2017

     Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  I am Jon’s slightly (emphasis on slightly) older sister, Jennifer.  Unbeknownst to Jon, I was asked to give a surprise speech in his honor.  Surprise, Jon!

    When sitting down to write this I asked my family, “Where do I begin?”  My husband, the less funny one, said, “At the beginning”.  My son, the class clown, said, “It was a dark and stormy night”. Writer's Digest described this sentence as "the literary posterchild for bad story starters."

Jennifer with her baby brother, Jon 2017
     Jon really was born on a dark and stormy (and VERY SNOWY) night, but I would not call him the posterchild for bad story starters.  In fact Jon’s best stories begin with, “Well, I was drinking and…”  All I wanted on the night that Jon was born was my mother’s comforting presence.  But apparently having a baby took precedent.  From that night on, Jon was Mom’s baby.  However he was, and always will be, my baby brother too.

     That’s how I became the older and, if you ask Jon, the bossier sister.  I like to think that I was, at an early age, setting Jon up for his military career.  In the military you do what you’re told, when you’re told, how you’re told, and you don’t argue or else.  That was pretty much what it was like having me for an older (OKAY FINE AND BOSSIER) sister.  I really think after all these years Jon owes me a “Thank You” for paving the road which the Air Force has led him down.  If I have taught you nothing else, Jon, I have taught you how to deal with leadership under pressure.

Jon's Enlistment Photo 18 years old
     I remember when Jon first enlisted in the Air Force.  On a trip home he told me how as part of his training the airmen were supposed to go on a camping exercise.  They cancelled because of rain. RAIN my friends!!  I laughed and called him a few not so politically correct names.  It turns out though, Jon learned battle does not wait for the weather.  He has gone on to fight many storms both personally and professionally.  While I like to think he toughened up from my name calling, it was many life lessons which made Jon the pillar of strength and determination that we admire today.

Ahhh, life lessons.  Like when you are a young airman stationed in England and you decide to get your nipples, BOTH OF THEM, pierced.  And, then infection sets in.  By the way, for a small fee, I have photographic proof of that life lesson.   The biggest life lesson though, for those close to Jon, was not one he needed to learn, but one he taught us.  At least it’s one I learned.  Without doing anything but being himself he taught those around him to never be afraid to be who you are on the inside, to stand up for what you believe in even if it makes you unpopular, to maintain your integrity, and above all else…not to pierce shit that shouldn’t be pierced!

     There were two occasions during Jon’s military career which left me frightened and breathless. The first, was on September 11th, 2001.  The now sacred 9-11 that none of us will ever forget.  We all know where we were that morning, but I didn’t know where Jon was.  He was, during that time, supposed to be arriving back to the US from England.  I had not heard from him so I didn’t know if he was back in the states, getting ready to leave England… or on one of those devastating airliners. So I calmy, and I use that word lightly, called our mother.  As casually as possible I asked if she had heard from Jon and she had not.  She had not yet heard the news, and suddenly I was a teenager caught in a lie trying to persuade her that I had no reason to be asking where Jon was.  I was not about to give her a reason to worry about her baby.  Finally, before she could turn on the news I tracked Jon down and was able to breathe again.

     The second time I held my breath was for roughly six months in 2006 when Jon was sent to Iraq. While I was hopeful he would return home safely, I was scared to death he wouldn’t.   For those who don’t remember, the US led a coalition into Iraq to topple the government of Saddam Hussein.  Just a few months before he shipped out our Mother had passed away.  Now, not all of you know about our Mother’s owl collection.  And, by collection I mean obsession.  Owls were her thing.  And, while Jon was on the base in Iraq he was followed by a single white owl.  His comrades caught sight of the owl, but never while walking with Jon. The owl never flew around him in the company of others.  It is our family’s firm belief that Jon was being protected by that majestic white owl. Was it Mom protecting her baby?  I like to think so.  When Jon FINALLY returned home safe and sound, my first thought was to take a deep breath.  My second thought was to call mom.

Ken, Dad (middle), Jon in their enlistment photos
    Unfortunately though, we cannot hold onto our parents forever.  We are going to grow up and go on to live life, sadly sometimes without them.
We lost our dad in 1997 and I wish he could have witnessed Jon climb the ranks from Airman Basic to Technical Sergeant.  Jon’s career in the military was preceeded by our Grandfather fighting in the Spanish-American war and our Father fighting in the Korean war.  They would have been so proud of you, Jon.  Tonight our oldest brother, Ken, a former Marine, is here to stand in for the military generations gone.  Ken, thank you for your service.

Jon with three siblings 2017

    Jon, myself, and all our siblings were raised by quiet and unassuming parents.  They didn’t teach us to get out there to see what the world had to offer, climb ladders, or be the one to change the world.  This did not make them bad parents, but sometimes it did limit what we thought we could make for ourselves.  Not Jon.  Jon left our sleepy-little town when he was 18 years old.  He traveled through Europe and the US to see what the world had to offer.
Through hard work, determination, and maybe a couple of failed PT Tests he climbed the ranks from Airman Basic, Airman 1st Class, Seinor Airman, Staff Sergeant, and finally retiring this year as a Technical Sergeant. I like to think he earned Staff Sergeant from all those years of learning how to boss like a boss from me.  Those titles may not mean much to us civilians, but to a kid who wasn’t taught to reach for the moon he sure managed to land amongst the stars.

     Jon is too humble to believe he changed the world.  But, for every one of us in this room tonight our world has been changed for the better since that dark and stormy night.  Jon, look around…every single person here tonight is here because of your love, friendship, and kindness.  Although the open bar might have kept them all here, they will always be at your side.  You absolutely HAVE changed the world.  The world is safer thanks to your dedication to the Air Force.  The world is kinder through your actions to those less fortunate.  And the world is more generous because of that big ol’ heart of yours.  You still have more changes to make, but as you go on from here don’t ever change who you are.

     Finally, let all of us join together by raising our glasses to Jon.  Here’s to one hell of a career, soon to be one hell of a night, and always to one hell of a guy!!  As they say in the Air Force, “Aim High…Fly-Fight-Win”.

Thank you.

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