Chairman Says "Taking Care" Includes Retirees
By Staff Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 21, 1997 Taking care of family doesn't stop just becausesomeone retires from the military, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home audience recently.
"We always pride ourselves in being a family," Gen. John M. Shalikashvili said. "I think we all ought to have a feeling that we're not being cut off when we retire. That's why I think all of us put a tremendous amount of emphasis on making sure retirement benefits don't erode."
The general said many retirees and veterans spent their whole lives protecting their country, and the retirement home is one benefit they now depend on.
Supporting the retirement home is "part of the fabric that we are a family and take care of our own," Shalikashvili said. "We all have a stake in this. Our men and women make a donation every month -- so it's theirs as well. And if they came here and had a chance to talk to the residents, they would feel immensely proud of their investment."
Every enlisted person and warrant officer pays 50 cents every monthto help support the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home in Washington and the Naval Home in Gulfport, Miss. Together they are called the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
Enlisted retirees; veterans with service-connected disabilities or veterans who served in a war theater or received hostile fire pay; and women veterans who were volunteers prior to 1948 are eligible to reside at either home.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Donald C. Hilbert, director of the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, called the chairman's visit a "wonderful experience" that shows residents the active duty force is still interested in the retirees, how they live and how they are taken care of.
"It was a good morale boost," he added. "Many people when theyretire feel everybody forgets about them and perhaps they don't care asmuch as when they were on active duty. But the chairman gave the residentsthe positive feedback that they are still considered distinguishedveterans." Shalikashvili and his wife, Joan, spent three hours touring the325-acre, park-like grounds and facilities, and talked with a number of the home's 1,400 residents -- they ate lunch with six resident representatives.
"We enjoy the visits, especially if they stop to talk to us," said Martha J. Williams, chair of the Resident Advisory Committee and an Army sergeant first class. "The retirement home is vital, and a lot of people who are here need it. To me, it's like an oasis in the middle of Washington, D.C."
The facility has two hotel-sized dormitories, a 200-bed long-termcare facility, its own post office, three chapels, gymnasium, golf course, library, bowling alley and two fishing lakes -- all fenced in and patrolled by security guards.
"People often come here and think they're going to see someold-time, World War II barracks," Hilbert said. "But it's a beautifulcollege-like campus. We're very fortunate that we're supported by the Armyand Air Force Exchange Service and have all the normal things you wouldfind on any post, base or naval station. And we have a great health clinic.It's an intermediate and skilled care clinic that can take care of themwhen they walk through the gate until they are no longer able to take careof themselves."
Allan H. Gordon, a resident and retired Navy chief petty officer, spoke with Shalikashvili in the fitness center. The chief gave the chairman a good report on the medical services available to the residents and said he enjoyed volunteering at the White House mailroom located on the premises. He also said he enjoys taking walks and spending time at the fitness center.
"You have to have something to do," Gordon said. "I walk a lot and like to come down here to the fitness center. My body is like a car. You can't let it set and grow idle. You've got to exercise those joints or you'll go to pot."
Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class May Judy, a resident and former Women's Army Corps member who retired after 20 years' service in 1965, summed up the feeling on most residents nicely, "We retirees are just lucky to have a place to come to live like this. We've got anything you want if you want to take advantage of it."
Williams added, "It's home, and that's how the people feel aboutit."(Roberts is the editor of J-Scope, World Wide Web newspaper of the JointStaff.)