Former Soldier Has Heart For Serving Others
September 29, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Retiree Appreciation Day will be a debut, in a way, for Ed Adams.
Though he's been providing services to retirees since April as the Garrison's new retirement services officer, the regional military retiree event Friday and Saturday will be a first for Adams as the coordinator of the event in support of Redstone Arsenal's Military Retiree Council.
"This is a once-a-year opportunity to bring these retirees together from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard," Adams said.
"It's almost like a class reunion. You might have two guys sitting next to each other at Retiree Appreciation Day who served in Vietnam, one Army and one Navy. They might never have known each other. But their similar experience brings them together and they can have a dialogue, and share their stories. We owe it to them to listen to their stories. We owe it to them to have an event like this that provides them with information and services, that lets us tell them 'thank you' and that gives them a chance to come together as a group."
Members of the Military Retiree Council, Adams said, are "tremendous in the work they do and in the way they love the military. The council wants military retirees and their spouses to feel a friendship, a close bond, with each other at Retiree Appreciation Day.
"We are using the three Cs -- communication, collaboration and cooperation -- to get the mission done together and bring one of the greatest retiree events to Redstone Arsenal. To make this happen, it takes people who are determined, dedicated and committed to serving others, and who love what they do."
About 28,000 invitations to Retiree Appreciation Day have been mailed to retirees in north Alabama and south Tennessee. The theme for this year's event is "Retiree and Family Member's Guide to the Future." The Military Retiree Council is hosting the event with the assistance of the Garrison and sponsors Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation, Woody Anderson Ford, Boeing and USAA.
"Retirees and their family members need to come to this event wanting to know. The future is unknown. But we live in the information age, and there is no reason for anyone not to know what they need to do to prepare for the future," Adams said.
"They need to come to this event with questions, like 'Are we going to have enough to live off of for the rest of our lives?' and 'Do we have a comfortable future with our military retirement and Tricare services?' I want to make sure retirees walk away from this event thoroughly informed for their future."
Adams worked in Human Resources during his 22-year military career and as a personnel actions officer for the past 10 years with the Garrison's Military Personnel Office. His new MILPO position working with retirees and their spouses is very much like coming home.
"I've always had a heart for helping others," the 57-year-old said. "I never thought this would come full circle. This is the kind of work I did in the military. Then, I retired and moved here with my wife. Now, I am right back where I started from and I love every minute of it.
"I want to be thought of as a servant. For me, being a Christian, it's important to provide service to people. It's an honor to serve them who have served us. It's about giving back a portion of what they have given us. We owe it to them to show them how much we appreciate them."
Every day, Adams' job involves a variety of tasks depending on the situation or issue that a military retiree brings with them when they visit his office. For instance, recently a military retiree widow came to Adams with a request that her husband's last service medal be recorded on his military record. In another example, a retired Navy seaman recently came to Adams seeking help in locating his grandson's APO number (military zip code) in Afghanistan.
"He had sent a letter to his grandson and it came back, and he was concerned about it," Adams said. "He had the wrong APO number and after about 35 minutes of searching on the computer I was able to find it for him.
"Just to see his face and how overwhelmed he was that someone thought he was special enough to help him made the time I spent with him well worth it. My objective is to make sure retirees who walk into this office have the kind of experience where they are satisfied that we did our best to help them."
Being a servant, helping others along their way, providing a source of information and assistance is what Adams is all about.
"I live my life by the principles of God," he said. "There are people who have paved the way for us, whether good, bad or indifferent. There are people now that you may know that you respect and others that you don't respect. Martin Luther King said in his final speech that we all have a legacy. When you die, what do you want people to remember you by? Everybody should have something special about them that they leave behind. Someday I want the retiree community to think of me and say 'That man loved serving others.'"
Adams' sense of service began at a young age with his desire to join the military. He became a private in the Army after graduating from his Shreveport, La., high school. He saw the Army as a chance to change his life for the better.
"I wanted to do something for myself and I wanted to get out of an environment where had I stayed I would have just been another statistic," Adams said.
"I was raised by a mother who raised seven by herself. We lived in an environment where I was more subject to be a statistic than a success. When the recruiter came to our house, my mother looked at me and asked 'Is this what you want?' The Army was an opportunity to excel. I had to be something else than what my life had to offer in Shreveport."
Once he put the Army uniform on, Adams was right where he wanted to be.
"It was a transformation that I really embraced," he said. "Even as a private, I could tell the change in me. I would come home for a visit in uniform and I would be watched by gentle eyes. The stature of a man in uniform really said something to my neighborhood. I saw the Army as a way for me to make something of myself. To live this life and never be able to touch your dreams was not an option for me."
Though most of his military career had him serving in the Human Resources field at Fort Bliss, Texas, and in Korea and Germany, Adams' talents also took him on special trips away from his HR duties. His abilities as a martial arts instructor made him popular on the Army recruiting circuit while his impressive Martin Luther King voice impersonation made him a speaker of choice at church and community events wherever he was stationed.
Adams came to Huntsville in 2000 when his wife, Retha, who was still serving in the Army, chose a job in logistics with the Aviation and Missile Command over a position at the Pentagon. Retired at the time, Adams was hired by the Corps of Engineers as a security officer.
"I was known as the security guard who talked to everybody," he said. "People would ask me 'Why do you talk to everyone?' I would tell them there are 623 employees in the Corps of Engineers and I'm going to know every last one of them. And, I did. By knowing them and being who I was, I could make a difference in my job."
During those years, he also owned a martial arts school. But when he got the opportunity to work in the Military Personnel Office, Adams knew it was the place for him.
"The Army is about family," he said. "The relationships that we have with Soldiers and their spouses are so important -- from when they first come into the Army to when they retire. Even after a Soldier passes away, their spouse is still part of the Army family.
"In the Army the Soldier is the greatest commodity we have, even as an employee is the greatest commodity in the workplace. How you treat that Soldier or employee will determine their output along with their integrity, their loyalty and their dedication to the job."
As a retiree himself, Adams is thankful for the Army family that he still holds dear.
"I thank God that I'm able to enjoy the hard work I gave for 22 years serving this great country. I know I can say 'thank you' to the Army for not forgetting me," he said. "To me, I feel I am in prestigious company. I can say I'm retired from the military, and that's better than anything a corporation can offer. The sense of patriotism and service you get from serving in the military stays with you forever."
Adams' wife is now working as a contract specialist for the Space and Missile Defense Command. Their family includes five grown children and three grandchildren. For the Adams couple, transitioning from the military to civilian life was relatively smooth. But it's not always like that for all retirees.
"You have to have a desire to make that transition," Adams said. "It can be a traumatic change and you can be thinking about the military 'I've done this all my life. This is all I know.' You can be scared half to death.
"But you have to have faith. You have to be willing to let go. It's not about holding on to the bar, but letting it go. Let go and He'll catch you."
Adams' faith is important to him in all aspects of life. A member of the Church of the First Born Christian Center, he is most concerned about continuing a life of service to others through his job as the Garrison's retirement services officer.
"My primary mission is to touch the lives and hearts of those who think they are forgotten. So many times, retirees think they are forgotten. But I'm here to tell them they are not forgotten and that they are cared for very much," he said. "This job is about building a foundation of trust that builds relationships. In everything we do, we impact other people's lives. I hope to impact other people's lives for the good."