Retirement Thoughts

Everyone has some words of wisdom that they want to impart after 20 or more years of service.  The problem is, sometimes those formations get so long, that no one is listening to you anymore, they’re just thinking about how much their back hurts and waiting to eat.  I have thought a lot over the last several years about what I would say during my retirement speech.  These are in no particular order, because I have ADD.


  • In February of 1997 I came home from Garden City High School, and my dad was waiting for me at the front door.  This was something that never happened, because he worked the afternoon shift at Detroit Diesel.  He had a letter in his hand, and it was from The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps inviting me to audition.  I don’t know if I had ever seen my dad so happy or proud at that time.  My mom brought me home early from a church retreat so I could practice for the audition, and my parents bought me a new fife to use for the audition.  Thank you to my parents for everything you did for me, and I love you so much!
  • Thank you to my friends and coworkers who have helped me through the years, you guys are literally the best.
  • Years ago we had to go to an NCO Induction at Spates Hall, and the guest speaker said something that always resonated with me.  He said, “How in the hell are you going to tell your Soldier to polish his shoes when yours look like shit?”  It’s a great point.  Try not to correct people when your house isn’t clean.
  • On that note, it’s always best to go into scenarios such as the aforementioned NCO Induction or Friday afternoon NCODP’s with an open mind.  Being in FDC, 99% of what the people are saying probably won’t apply to you, but there is always some kind of takeaway.
  • Be wary of taking hope away from your Soldiers.  Once they lose hope in the future of their career and the future of this organization, you’ve lost them forever.
  • Remember as leaders that your Soldiers are first and foremost PEOPLE.  It is important for leaders to think about the “big picture”, but you’ll never get your big picture if one of your Soldiers commits suicide.  Know your people, and when they’re in trouble get them help!  Sometimes you have to stop thinking about the mission for 2 seconds and think about the lives of the people involved.
  • When I joined the unit we were pretty much all E6’s, and it was a beautiful thing.  There were maybe 9 E7’s and 2 E8’s.  Our section leaders were E6’s with more time in service than us.  When we received all of the E7 and E8 rank that we have now, it was also a beautiful thing.  It was good for FDC because we were finally getting recognized as the special band that we were.  However, I somethings think that this was also one of the worst things that ever happened to the unit.  It was so divisive.  This is an organization that used to be one of the most loyal places in the world, and we just don’t have that anymore.  You can see it happening every time a promotion is coming up.  People will push their friends in front of a bus just to look better for the promotion.  But that loyalty is so important.  We can’t be an effective unit if we’re constantly stabbing each other in the back.  So instead of stabbing each other in the back, consider having each other’s backs.
  • In the fife section there are people who have a flute background and people who have a fife background (the “Ancients).  When I came to FDC it was easy to feel superior as an Ancient, because I had already been playing a fife longer than a lot of my peers who had been in the Army longer than me.  However, it is important for Ancients to realize that it is easy for college-trained flute players to feel superior to Ancients, because they have a lot of knowledge about music and professionalism.  I’m here to tell you that no one is superior.  You should all be careful when you are sitting on audition panels that your selections don’t sway too far in one direction.  It should be as close to a 50/50 split as possible, because both Ancients and college-trained flutists bring something necessary to the table, and that is a great thing for the fife group in general.
  • Try not to be too judgmental after promotions.  What is a good leader?  Everyone has their idea of what a good leader is, and the common idea in FDC has been a very specific leader type. I would challenge you to think outside that box sometimes.  If everyone who got promoted in this unit had the same leadership style, what a huge weakness that would be.  There are leaders in this unit who meet the common ideal of leadership perfectly. They have their shit together, they are organized and professional at all times, they always know where their people are and what is best for the group.  I would challenge you to think outside the box.  Just as the fife group thrives with fifers from different performance backgrounds, the corps thrives with different types of leaders.  We need leaders who are the best musician on the field, but not all leaders are going to be the best.  I remember doing a Pentagon arrival ceremony when Lonnie Johnson pulled me off the bus and asked me to help him play through the new sound off.  He was the best leader I ever had, but he knew who to ask for help in an area of weakness.  Leaders don’t have to be the best at everything!  That’s why you have such a diverse squad, put those Jimmies to use!  Some of your leaders might seem flaky when it comes to running a section, but they might be the best person for the job as far as moral integrity or creativity.  This unit is amazing and hires amazing people, and we’re all different, and that’s ok.  Stop worrying about becoming a Stepford Wife for promotion, and start celebrating your differences and taking advantage of each other’s strengths.  Support each other through your weaknesses (this goes back to loyalty and not stabbing each other in the back).
  • When I joined the corps, they were concerned with hiring better musicians.  A lot of the old timers were “school of music dropouts”, and they wanted a new caliber.  Those “dropouts” were some of the best marchers I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing with, and I learned a lot from them.  Additionally, they were a far cry better from the infantrymen and draft dodgers who made up FDC before them.  That’s the point.  If we’re doing our job properly, we’re going to continue to hire and train people who are better than us.  When today’s old timers were younger, we were among the best musicians.  However, we did nothing but honor and respect those old timers who trained us.  If we had disrespected our “elders” (so to speak) then we would only be training the newer generations to do the same thing to us.  The corps gets better and better with every audition, and if you’re doing your jobs the way you should, it will continue to do so.
  • Pro tip:  Add a contact into your phone called “Driver” and whenever you’re NCOIC of a mission change the phone number to the driver’s number.  Then when you’re done with the mission, you’ll always be able to reach the driver.
  • Be kind to one another, because sometimes your buddies at FDC are the only friends you’ve got.
  • THE absolute hardest part about working in FDC is watching your best friends leave year after year.  I’m sorry to all of the new people who I haven’t allowed myself to get to know, but I really just couldn’t take that much loss anymore!  When Teddy left in 2001, it was so difficult.  My friend was retiring!  After that, it was a series of difficult losses.  Saying goodbye to Andrea, Susan Brockman, Lonnie, Glen, Cece, Rich-a part of me died each time.  I call it the “Circle of Fife”.  But I will tell you, it is almost like a death.  The friendships are NEVER the same once someone leaves the corps.  I only hope I can maintain my relationship with John once I retire (haha!)
  • Speaking of loss, I loved Susan Moser.  Sometimes we fought at work and sometimes we had our differences, but she had my back during a time when my friends at FDC were the only friends I had (see above).  I will forever be thankful to her for helping me through that difficult time (and then some), and she will be a part of my heart forever.
  • When Karl Sauter retired, he said that he gave the best years of his life to the Army.  This is true.  When I was 18 I used to be able to do a Special GO ceremony after a can of Dr. Pepper and some Cheetos for lunch.  Can you imagine feeling that good? Take care of your bodies, because this job is physically demanding.  If you’re sick or hurt, go to the doctor.  Don’t ‘walk it off’ because that makes you look tough.
  • Try not to discount (all) new ideas from new people.  It is true, there are times that they will come up with a “brilliant” idea that has been tried, tested, and failed already, but that is not to say that they don’t come up with winners.  Was it Jeb or Dave Loyal (or a combination of the two) who came up with a better way of doing flags in than we’ve been doing for decades prior?  We never thought there might be an easier way to do it, we just did it the old hand-blistering way because that’s the way it’s always been done.
  • Don’t agree with the President?  Doesn’t matter.  He’s your president.  Respect the office if not the man himself.  Same goes for your entire chain of command.
  • There are some of you that I really wish I got to serve with longer, because I think we could have had such fun back in the day.  Frankie Frank, Casey, Brooke Stevens, Brian Hublar-you guys are fun, keep at it!
  • Try not to let your passion for this job overcome your passion for life.  If you learn anything from me at all, learn from my mistakes.  When I was a kid I had a poster of TOG FDC hanging over my bed because it was a dream for me to come here.  I wanted to look at my goal every night before I closed my eyes.  The corps was the last thing I looked at at night and the first thing I saw in the morning.  I got here and I lived it.  I gave 200% of myself to this organization, but it really isn’t healthy.  When you are giving that much of yourself to something else, there is nothing left over for anything or anyone, including yourself.  I shut down almost completely, and lost my will to live.  John came home and found me laying down in the shower, where I had been for hours unable to get up.  I wasn’t eating or sleeping, and I lost about 10 lbs in a week.  I ended up admitted into the hospital for extreme anxiety and major depressive episode.  After going through a long outpatient treatment, I almost became the polar opposite of myself and started giving 200% of myself to my family.  And let me tell you, after the way I treated them before I was lucky that I still had them.  Before, they came second always.  There was never a question.  I am so blessed that my family is still by my side.  But I think in order to be successful here, you can’t let yourself sway too far in either direction.  I guess the theme here is balance.
  • Go to school.  How lucky am I that the Army paid for me to get a Bachelor Degree?  Go to school!  Make it a priority.
  • If you think that you’re too good to make a mistake, then you have primed yourself to make a mistake.  One time we were doing a ceremony and when we rounded that last turn before the chute and started marking time, I was feeling great.  When the drum major came up with the stick and we started half stepping, I felt even better.  I was on top of the world!  Then I came up with TUSAB’s 7-count…
  • When I got here the corps was made up of two corps, Corps I and Corps II.  I was in Corps II at first, and then the whole fife group moved to Corps I.  I’ve always served in building 231.  There were no awnings over the seats on Summerall Field.  We played a McDonaugh 11-Hole fife, and later a Cooperman Concert 10-Hole before switching to the Healy.  The fire station was next to Caisson, and we didn’t have cell phones.  After a few years I got a pager, haha!  C-Hall was covered in homasote and repainted blue maybe monthly.  We used to march with a 5-man front in ceremonies indoors and out.  The fife and drum corps completely changed after 9/11.  Before that, we were a peacetime Army.  When I joined the Army, I joined under the “Be all that you can be” slogan.  Since then, I’ve seen “Army of One”, “Army Strong”, and whatever else.  When I first saw the corps perform in 1989, it was a Twilight Tattoo ceremony on the ellipse in DC.  They sang, “When we were needed, we were there.”  I was disappointed that they don’t have that song in Twilight this year.  The daycare center and library used to be in that field where the TUSAB building is allegedly going to be built.  My first barracks room was in a building that doesn’t exist anymore, and is now the education center/library.  They used to make fresh waffles with a waffle iron every day to order at the chow hall, and they were the whip.  Delta Company used to have an actual dog that lived at their company.  He was dirty and kind of gross, but very sweet.  If I had a dime for every time we watched “Tombstone”, “Face Off”, and “Con Air” in the bus, I’d be rich.  When I got here, Spirit of America was on hiatus.  It came back around 2000, and we did it at the MCI (now Verizon) Center, and they did a horse show with the caisson horses which was incredible, with figure 8’s and all kind of stuff.  After their show, they had a couple of Jimmies came out dressed like clowns to clean up the poo, with crazy music playing like Yakkety Sax or something, and after that got the crowd pumped, FDC came out and did our show.  Interesting career bookend:  doing Staff Duty at the beginning and the end of my career.  We used to submit our Sergeant’s Time schedule to the Regimental Sergeant Major so he could go around post and make sure we were where we said we would be doing what we said we’d be doing.  We spent a lot of time in our super secret hiding places down at the bottom of the hill and in Rollo’s van.
  • If you know me, you know that I have a lot more to say, but I’m trying to get out the door for my last DA ceremony ever.
  • I love John and my girls more than I can even say.  Thank you for being mine.


  • Troy Paolantonio

    Love. Thank you for sharing all that you have. Your 200% gave me back some of mine and I will make sure I give that forward to others the same way that you have! You always have a family here, and remember, the best is yet to come! Can I get an Amen up in here!!!

  • Trink

    Except that guy…

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