I spent they afternoon at Top Gun yesterday. I mean literally – I was at MCAS Miramar for the retirement ceremony of Col. Robert “Carrot” Foltyn. We met through Spirit of America, and he seems to be entertained enough by me that we’re extending that professional relationship into a friendship.
The ceremony was interesting, as all ceremonies are when you look at them; the mechanics of setting up tents, flagpoles, a sound system are all a bit complex, and if you’re like me and try hard to notice things you wind up paying a lot of attention to all the people and components. Then suddenly you look at them again and they morph into a whole, a stage, and you’re standing behind the crowded seats, watching the event unfold.
The unfolding itself was short, a few speeches from the brass and then a longer, soft-spoken one from Carrot himself (he and all his colleagues refer to each other and themselves by their call signs; they greet each other in the hallways as ‘Carrot’ and ‘Smoke’ and ‘Bluebell’ – I’m not a member of the club, so it felt pretty odd when he asked that I do the same thing – but I’m certainly not going to cross him), and then it was over and he was retired. Not an ex-Marine, though. There are no ex-Marines, I was told. As the long-haired stranger there (actually, his brother – a physicist at Los Alamos – has longer hair), I took a seat at the side of the dining room, with a group of older couples that I took to be friends of the family and discovered that I had seated myself with a group of Marine aviators going back to the Korean war (one was an ace). That’s how the older gentleman with the rheumy eyes and walking stick identified himself – as a Marine aviator.
There’s not too much of a point here, except first and foremost to express my affection and admiration for Col. Foltyn both for his achievements (he was among other things the training department head at Top Gun, which implies both a certain technical competence and a small measure of leadership) and for the kind of neat, warm, interesting guy he is.
It also continues my education in being impressed by then men and women in uniform, and the institution they serve.
I was talking about Spirit of America with one officer just back from Iraq, and he walked me through some of the command-level debates that had taken place over ‘what to do about Fallouja’, and he brought up the Chechen war, and Grozny. Smart, well-informed people. One of the officers I talked to was a young black woman – I don’t think this is the Marine Corps of the 1950’s.
In talking to them, they are – oddly, I think – outspoken about their appreciation for Spirit of America and the related organizations working to help the people of Iraq. “You are literally saving Marines lives,” was something I heard four times. “And Iraqi ones as well,” one of the Marines added.
So this is my personal thanks to Carrot for his service and to his wife and family for what I know it has cost them as well. Gratitude doesn’t fill your bank account or read bedtime stories to the baby when Daddy is away for a year.
But right now, it’s the best I have to offer.
[Update: I’m a dork. I also forgot to mention that the unanimous take among Iraq veterans – in spite of my best efforts to trap them through clevel cross-examination – is that things over there are a whole lot better than what they read in the media. What can I say? More on this Sunday]