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Jon Altmann
Senior Chief Intelligence Specialist, USN (Ret).
National Vice President – Enlisted Affairs

November 2011 Column – Retirees & Veterans

Welcome aboard to the many newly pinned Chief Petty Officers in our Navy! I attended the NOSC Phoenix pinning ceremony and saw many proud Sailors pinned before Shipmates and their families. Their journey as Sailors continues. Once a Sailor, always a Sailor? Is there a connection – and should we to those who have served? Here’s my challenge to those new CPOs:

Not long ago, working around Chief of Navy Reserve VADM John Cotton, I often heard his advocacy for “Sailors for Life.” VADM Cotton was pushing the idea that there are no “former” Sailors. He wanted to instill a culture change. Our Marine Corps associates have the concept down pat – once a Marine, always a Marine.

Retirees and Navy veterans are key members of our civilian community. The ranks of those who have served are diminishing with a smaller military. We see less of them as business leaders, elected officials or community activists. Go into a typical American workplace and chances are that the manager and most employees have never served. Few employers today are like USAA, where the vast majority have served or are the immediate family member of someone who is or has served. America is losing its veterans connection.

Voices in Washington are talking about ending the military retirement system as a defined benefit and switching it to a 401K of sorts. ADM John Harvey, Fleet Forces Commander and past Chief of Navy Personnel spoke to an AUSN reception in Phoenix recently. ADM Harvey commented professionally that such a move may hurt the all-volunteer military. We must count on retirees and veterans to speak up.

Our CPO Messes, First Class Associations and command family groups need friends in the community. The retiree and veterans are the first group of friends that will directly relate to us. They are still Sailors for Life. Reach out to them via AUSN and other Veterans Service Organizations. Reach out to universities that have veterans’ centers. Adopt a chapter, post or center as a friend of your ship, squadron or CPO Mess.

Our story as Sailors needs to be told and broadcast. We assert ourselves positively and show our great worth by low key outreach. You’ll also make a lot of those who served feel like they are still Shipmates and baring a hand.

Before I retired, I attended a civilian community affairs meeting for folks of teenage parent age. It would come up that I was serving, and the standard “thank you for your service” comment came forth. Often, I’d hear also something to the effect that they appreciated that we all served, but they would not want their son or daughter to be in the military. When I asked those parents if they had served, they said, “no.” In fact, many did not have a parent who served, either.

We must reach out to remind folks we are here and that Sailors are doing tremendous things to help others. Veterans and Navy retirees are part of those communications and carry our message further to secure the home front. Embrace them – they are key to our future.

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