By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneAugust 1, 2014
The news is out. The 43rd annual Redstone Arsenal Retiree Appreciation Day is set Sept. 18-20.
Retiree bulletins announcing the date and the planned activities are being mailed to 40,000 retirees throughout the Tennessee Valley, with a range that extends north into southern Tennessee and south to the Cullman/Jasper area. The theme for this year's RAD is "Strength of the Retirees: Support Warriors, Veterans and their Families." The RAD is organized by Redstone Arsenal's Military Retiree Council.
Although it's the 43rd planned Retiree Appreciation Day at Redstone Arsenal, this year's event is one of firsts for the Redstone Arsenal Retiree Council. It's the first retiree event since the 2013 sequestration action canceled last year's event just days before it was scheduled in October. It's the first time for the event to offer the popular golf tournament on a day separate from other activities. And it's the first time for the event to "own" its own weekend in the fall.
"In the past, the RAD has worked around the Arsenal's schedule every year, so it's been moved around a lot," said retired Sgt. Maj. Donnell Pelt, co-chairman of the Military Retiree Council.
"But there will be no more RADs in October because with the beginning of the fiscal year things could get unstable again. Now, the Garrison leadership has set the RAD for the third weekend in September and other Arsenal events will have to work around us."
That's a good thing when you consider that hundreds of retirees from all military branches make plans well in advance to attend Redstone's Army-mandated retiree day every year.
"The intent is to provide some stability and predictability for the RAD so that retirees know it will always be the third weekend in September," said retired Col. Clay Newton, co-chairman of the Military Retiree Council.
"Collectively, we have done a very good job of deconflicting the schedule -- primarily with Family, Morale Welfare and Recreation ?-- so that we can always have this mandated event on the same weekend of the year."
After last year's retiree day got canceled just three days before it was set to take place, there were many retirees who didn't find out until they arrived at Redstone for the event.
"A couple hundred showed up at The Summit (for breakfast and the health fair)," Newton said. "It's a credit to the installation, members of the Military Retiree Council and The Summit, that we recognized that some retirees would still show up for the event.
"So, for those who did, the council was there to welcome them. The Summit provided a continental breakfast and Fox Army Health Center provided flu shots. That shows the strength of our community because volunteers still came out to help us mitigate the impact of the event being canceled."
Mailing the annual retiree bulletin is the pivotal event that launches Retiree Appreciation Day. The nine-page, front-and-back bulletin is packed with information on the event's activities as well as benefits information that retirees need to know.
"This is a document that retirees look forward to and anticipate annually," Newton said. "It's not just a flyer about the RAD. It's also an information document that provides points of contact and other information for retirees. It's a document that retirees can refer to throughout the year for information."
The Retiree Bulletin is mailed to retirees in the area who are receiving retirement benefits through the Defense Finance and Accounting office. The bulletins are mailed through the Garrison's Retirement Services Office with assistance from Ed Adams, the Retirement Services officer; and Barbara Moudy, chief of Transition Services.
The schedule for this year's RAD begins Thursday, Sept. 18, with the MWR Golf Scramble at the Links. Registration for the tournament begins at noon with a shotgun start at 12:30.
"We added the golf scramble two years ago and we had a great turnout," Newton said.
"Last year, of course, we didn't have it because of the cancellation. This year, we have moved it to its own day so that retirees can have a day to golf together and then they can attend the other events on Friday and Saturday, and bring their spouse with them. If we had it on Friday, they wouldn't be able to participate in our other events. So, a Thursday golf scramble allowed us to spread it out enough so we wouldn't have conflicts."
About 800 retirees are expected to attend the RAD on Friday, Sept. 19, with the day beginning with a free continental breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. at The Summit. The Retiree Health Fair presented by Fox Army Health Center begins at 8 a.m., also at The Summit. The health fair includes several local medical-related organizations and vendors providing information to retirees and a drive-by flu shot vaccine event in The Overlook parking lot.
"The focus is on providing education on health services and wellness programs not just at Fox but in the community," Newton said.
Friday's activities also include a Commissary welcome with refreshments from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Challenger Bingo beginning at 6:45 p.m. at building 1500 on Weeden Mountain Road.
On Saturday, Sept. 20, the RAD moves to the Sparkman Center, where retirees will begin the day with a breakfast from 7 to 8 a.m. in the Sparkman Cafeteria. Music will be provided by the Army Materiel Command Band.
An opening ceremony is set for 8 a.m. in the Sparkman Center's Bob Jones Auditorium followed by a morning of speakers from the Garrison, Fox Army Health Center, Military Officers Association of America, Tricare, Veterans Affairs, several state and federal organizations, and the Alabama National Cemeteries.
"Primarily, we are reaching out to the retirees and providing information of what's going on in the military and with their benefits, and information on the services provided for them in this community," Newton said.
"On top of that, if we can show them some measure of appreciation, that will be great. A cup of coffee and a doughnut go a long way to do that. Part of the reason they come to RAD is for the information, but another big part of RAD for them is their affiliation to their service and a chance to mingle with other veterans. You will see them wearing their hats and jackets with their military affiliation on them. They are very proud of that."
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., more than 50 organizations will man informational booths outside the Sparkman Center's auditorium. Organizations such as the Redstone-Huntsville chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, Veterans Affairs, Tricare and Army Community Service will host booths where they can talk with retirees and answer their questions.
"Besides providing them with information, we also want retirees to know they have a voice and their voice will be heard," Newton said.
Other services provided during the Saturday event will be ID card issuance and assistance at the Sparkman Center, and Estate and Legal Services -- including wills, living wills, advance health care directives and powers of attorney -- from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Legal Assistance Office, building 3439 on Honest John Road (transportation to and from building 3439 will be provided from the Sparkman Center parking lot near the auditorium).
Lunch will be served in the Sparkman Cafeteria from 11:30 to 1 p.m., and then door prize winners will be announced in the auditorium beginning at 1:15.
Also on Saturday, the Exchange will celebrate its Grand Reopening and Retiree Appreciation Day with cake and punch served at 3 p.m. The Exchange will provide free gift bags to the first 50 guests, will offer a $50 Exchange card to four winners, and offer other door prizes and demonstrations.
The Commissary will offer a Mega Case Lost Sale and "Back to School" September Special Sept. 18-20.
"We are going to have a great RAD," Newton said. "It's certainly a challenge to do these kinds of things in a fiscally constrained environment. It's a challenge for everybody. For us, we just have to be more creative and think of services we can provide that don't take a lot of money."
But Newton and Pelt don't see the mandatory RAD leaving Redstone. If anything, it should grow in the upcoming years.
"We are moving into a time when those who have served during the last 12 years of conflict will be retiring. So we are moving into a whole new junction of retirees with completely different experiences than the retirees we have been serving," Newton said.
"We are committed to informing them, and letting them know about things that could potentially affect their lives and their livelihood. The RAD is about taking care of our own, and helping them and really assisting them with things like employment and health care."