So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Barbara Harbison
  • 108th Wing Public Affairs Office
When November comes to a close, I start a new phase of my life - orders take me into the Retired Reserve. After 28 years in the military - active duty Army, Pennsylvania Army National Guard and New Jersey Air National Guard - I am changing my daily wear of camouflage to ... what I want to wear!

As is normal, when it comes to the end of one part of your life, you sit back and reminisce about the past. I am leaving the military the same season I started - Thanksgiving. After 3 ½ months in Delayed Entry, I went to the MEPS station in Harrisburg, Pa., for another swearing in and my flight to Fort Jackson, S.C. In a possible omen in how my life in the military was to be - the group of five newly sworn in soldiers found themselves on a bus to Fort Jackson because someone forgot to buy plane tickets and at Thanksgiving time there was no way last minute tickets were available.

So we hopped on the Greyhound bus and took a meal ticket meant to pay for meals for all five of us at the stops along the way. At the first stop, we ordered meals at the Burger King, handed them the meal ticket and found out that the ticket only paid for one meal not five. I think the same person who forgot to buy plane tickets filled out the meal ticket.
Twenty or so hours later we arrived at Fort Jackson, exhausted, hungry and wary of this new adventure. Then, came the call for chow. As I entered the chow hall, drill sergeant wanna-bes started screaming at me because I wasn't standing in line properly. I quickly learned how to stand at parade rest, snap to attention, take a step, come back to attention, then snap to parade rest - and repeat those movements again and again until I got to the front of the line. With VERY aching arms!!! My first meal was Thanksgiving dinner; we had landed there on Thanksgiving Day and I sat there and had the 1982 Army version of a Pilgrim's feast.

Many memories will stay with me through the years of my retirement. I have met some great people, some famous, some not so famous. While stationed at Fort Devens, Mass., I met the Sergeant Major of the Army (1987-1991), Command Sgt. Maj. Julius W. Gates. I went along to do a story for the post newspaper when he visited an engineer company working with their equipment in a big sandpit.

These soldiers, staff sergeant and below were overwhelmed and nervous. I watched, interested, as he had told the senior enlisted to stand about 20 yards away and then had these young men take off their helmets and relax as he asked them about their military experiences - the pluses and minuses. It was a lesson that I have carried with me: no matter how important the system says you are, you should be able to take the time to talk to those the world may consider less important than you. In my book, those leaders who didn't, weren't.

I have served in a variety of jobs - radio teletype operator, public affairs specialist, awards clerk, unit clerk, medical supply, tool and parts attendant and data analysis. I was lucky enough to be trained on how to use a PC in 1988; of course the floppy disks were 5.25 inches and held a miniscule amount of data compared to the 8 gig thumb drives I carry with me now!

My favorite job has been working in public affairs. I get to meet many people, learn about a lot of things, see different places, and get paid for it at the same time. The past 11 years which have been spent in the public affairs office have given me many wonderful memories that I carry in my mind and heart. I have to give a special shout out to the 108th Civil Engineers. They opened their doors to me and took me to Florida and Croatia.

My plans for the upcoming years include more time to spend with my family, from parents to grandchildren; traveling with my soon-to-be retired husband; doing some more volunteer work with Delran First United Methodist Church and my favorite charity, Home Front Hearts; and of course, creating quilts. One quilt in the planning stage is one made from military uniforms - a good use for them since I certainly will not be wearing them!

As I sit at the table this year, many Thanksgivings later - four spent in Geilenkirchen, Germany, while I was stationed there - I will be remembering that one 28 years ago and among the things I will be saying my thanks for - the men and women with whom I have served and those who continue to serve.