By John Reese
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs
A large turnout of veterans with a combined number of hundreds of years of service gathered at the Swabian Special Events Center, Patch Barracks, to meet up with old comrades and get up to speed on veterans benefits at the garrison’s annual Retiree Appreciation Day, Oct. 17.
Retired Master Sgt. Gus Norvel, garrison Casualty Assistance Program and Retiree Services Officer for Stuttgart, organized the event along with retired Master Sgt.Basil Forrest, Stuttgart Army Community Service coordinator and RAD emcee. At the beginning, there were more than 100 retirees in attendance, many accompanied by family members.
“It’s a very big day. We have a lot of retirees in our footprint, and it’s good to see they came out to this event because we have so many agencies that are represented for the Stuttgart community that retirees can benefit from,” Norvel said. “Turnout is more than last year. We did a lot of promoting of RAD through PAO and AFN to announce it, and bulletins throughout the community, and it shows!” Norvel said. “And we still have three hours to go!”
Nikki Palmore, benefits advisor, Department of Veterans Affairs, told attendees that although they’ve retired, they still have personalized services available to them. Palmore addressed common misconceptions about retiree medical and other benefits. As the first speaker following the opening comments, she immediately found herself answering questions from the audience until she offered to discuss their concerns at her table in the main RAD room.
Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer Lynn M. Peterson, Army RSO program manager, was the most popular person in the RAD room, answering a steady stream of questions from the audience during the opening ceremonies until the event ended at 2 p.m. Peterson is a particularly knowledgeable subject matter expert, being responsible for pre- and post-retirement services. Her small office is the proponent for AR 600-8-7, the retirement services regulation, which she just finished updating; the Army Retired Soldier Handbook; and the Retirement Planning Guide; the Dept. of Army mandatory retirement briefing for all Soldiers.
“We’re responsible for active duty deaths as well as the Survivor Benefit Plan,” she said. “We’re also responsible for My Army Benefits and the Soldier for Life Army benefits pages. And Army Echoes, which you should all be receiving, and the Army Echoes blog.”
Peterson shared a graphic showing the overall retiree of all services population as of 2018.
“As you see, the Army takes up the biggest chunk,” she said, adding that another piece of pie chart showed retired Army Guard and Reserve Soldiers await their 60th birthday to apply for retiree pay and benefits.
“Do we have any sister services here?” she asked. As she named the Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, attendees raised their hands or shouted out their versions of Hooah. A warm round of laughter came after she shared her father, an Air Force veteran, didn’t understand why she’d joined the Army (the Air Force has the second-largest group of retirees.
Another graphic chock full of dozens of red, white and blue info ovals was “purposefully meant to overwhelm” the attendees, Peterson said.
“It’s supposed to be in your face and for you to see everything that your retirement services officer is responsible for,” she explained. “Everything in the red, your retiree services officer is supposed to be a subject matter expert; everything in the white, they’re supposed to have a working knowledge; everything in blue, they’re supposed to have a basic understanding of the subject.”
Anything that was within the very busy chart was something the RSO should be able to provide points of contact or resources, or provide answers and assistance for any retiree questions in regard to pay systems, benefit plans, etc.
“With any of those subjects, the RSO is able to assist you,” Peterson said.
Retirees lined up for influenza vaccinations, blood pressure checks by the Patch Health Clinic and the American Red Cross, read optometry cards or charts to check their vision, touched bases with Army Community Service’s Survivor Outreach Services, and much more. While all of the information was welcome, many veterans participated to see old friends again.
“RAD is one of the best times to come and meet all of your retiree buddies,” said retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. William H. Goble, who retired in Germany in 1972 and helped cut the cake as the earliest retirement.
It turned out that former Army drill sergeant, 87-year-old Max W. Ellis, had retired a year before Goble. Ellis, wearing a baseball cap with “MAX” embroidered on it, enlisted April, 1951. Now in a wheelchair and assisted by his adult children, Ellis recalled his large retirement ceremony on July 31, 1971.
“When I retired, there were 157 of us, including a brigadier general,” Ellis said, adding it was the biggest Army retirement ceremony he knew of.
In addition to support by local MPs, members of Stuttgart High School JROTC helped to greet and sign-in retirees.
“I feel proud supporting Retiree Appreciation Day. I love and support our veterans and I’m glad I can do it,” said SHS sophomore and JROTC Cadet Cpl. Jayden Ranee Jones.