Into the Sunset by ROTC
[by Cadet Paul Estrada, '09] My fascination with color guard, and participation in a colonel's retirement ceremony.
[by Cadet Paul Estrada, ’09]
As he walked up to us and stretched out his hand, the first thing that Col Wallen told the Det 365 Air Force ROTC Color Guard was something along the lines of, “You see that man over there? Make sure you show him your full respect, he’s the top Senior NCO in the Air Force.” Both men instantly had my respect.
One of the many reasons why I enjoy ROTC so much is that there are so many opportunities available to me that I wouldn’t have anywhere else. The world’s best leadership training is probably somewhere at the top of that list, but that’s a completely different story. Instead, I’ll discuss my fascination with color guard. I’m not completely sure why I enjoy color guard so much. I think it has a lot to do with my appreciation for the tradition and dignity of the military, and for me, color guards symbolize each of those qualities. Or it just might have to do with the fact that being able to slap around a rifle (even if it has been decommissioned) is just flat-out awesome. At any rate, I volunteer whenever I have the time, and that’s how I ended up being a part of Col Wallen’s retirement ceremony.
When the four of us arrived at the Dave Powers Room in the Constitution Inn in Boston, each of us immediately felt a little out of place. We were standing in the middle of a room full of colonels. As one Army officer pointed out to us later on, “Sure is a lot of brass in here isn’t there?” When I finally saw a shoulder with a pair of shiny stars on it, I giddily tapped the shoulder of the cadet next to me and said, “There’s a general in here!” He just nodded with a sorta “I know, let’s not screw this up” attitude.
As we began setting up, the officers in charge of the ceremony started playing a video. The video was of Col Wallen thirty years younger, when he was in fact an ROTC detachment commander. It was actually really interesting to watch just because I could relate to a lot of the cadets that were being inspected in the video. However, what shocked me the most was that the 20something-year-old wing commander in the video was actually the narrator for the retirement ceremony. The 20-year-old cadet, so eager to begin his career in the United States Air Force, was now standing ten feet away from me a 50-year-old colonel, well respected and full of experience. I was blown away, probably more than I should’ve been, but for the rest of the ceremony I was thinking about the cadet in the video and how it related to my future in the Air Force…
The last half of the ceremony was extremely entertaining for the officers in the room were exchanging funny stories about Col Wallen and handing him gifts. My personal favorite was a t-shirt that read, “You’re different today, I noticed the improvement immediately.” One of the last gifts to Col Wallen was presented by the same Senior NCO that Col Wallen had pointed out to us earlier. It was a small statue of a man on horseback. The NCO explained that the statue was normally given out when a member of the enlisted corps retired, and symbolized a job well done, and that it was time to ride off into the sunset.
The reason I chose to write about my time at Col Wallen’s retirement ceremony is because it really helped to put things into perspective. About halfway through, I jokingly whispered to the cadet next to me, “That’s gonna be you someday.” He laughed it off, but I could tell that he was seriously thinking about it. I truly hope that I have a retirement ceremony similar to Col Wallen’s at some point in my life, being presented a statue of a man on horseback symbolizing a career of respect and honor, and finally riding off into the sunset. But that’s just the end of the road. For now, I plan on focusing on where I am now, a hard working student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a proud cadet at Air Force ROTC Det 365, and hopefully someday, a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. I have too many great things going on now for me to worry about things that far down the line. I just hope nobody notices my improvement today.