FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 27, 2018) -- More than 32,000 Soldiers retired in fiscal year 2017, but when their mission ended, the service they still provide to the Army and the nation is invaluable.

That was one of the messages delivered at the annual Retiree Appreciation Day ceremony Sept. 22 at Fort Drum, New York.

Maria Bentinck, Army Retirement Services deputy director, was guest speaker at the event and shared with the audience what it means to be a "Soldier for Life."

"We want you to refer to yourself as a retired Soldier, not a retiree," she said. "Once a Soldier, always a Soldier - a Soldier for Life. We're not training and fighting wars anymore, but we are still maintain our connection to the active Army."

She said retired Soldiers can do that through volunteering with installation programs and organizations, talking with service members and their families, and participating in community events.

"We want you to be that inspiration for others. We want to make sure that we are still a voice for the active Army and that we are still actively engaged," Bentinck said.

One of the reasons that Retiree Appreciation Day attracts large attendance numbers is that is provides attendees with priority personnel services to include identification card renewal, legal assistance for wills, power attorneys and health proxies, and informational briefings that focus on healthcare benefit changes.

On any other day, Bentinck said, questions about retiree benefits and services can be addressed through the Retirement Services Office. At Fort Drum, that office is managed by Sonny Mitchell with James Shinholt as assistant.

The retirement services officer is the subject matter expert on topics such as survivor benefits and retirement pay plans.

"You have someone who is here to assist you with any questions you may have, or any issues you have with your benefits and entitlements through your retirement," Bentinck said.

She also referred the audience to the Soldier for Life website, www.soldierforlife.army.mil/retirement, which is updated with current information that affects retirees.

Many attendees were interested in learning about the changes in dental coverage, since enrollment is not automatic for 2019. Benefits now fall under the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP), with open season enrollment starting Nov. 12 through Dec. 10.

Bentinck also reminded the active-duty Soldiers in attendance that "retirement is a process, not an event."

"If you're only thinking about your retirement ceremony, you're setting yourself up for failure," she said. "There are so many other tasks associated with retirement, so you need to ensure your planning properly for that, and that should be 12 to 24 months out from retirement."

Attendees were also invited to tours of Guthrie Clinic, the Army Wellness Center, LeRay Mansion and the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum Museum.

The Fort Drum Retirement Services Office is located inside Clark Hall, 10720 Mount Belvedere Boulevard. For more information, call (315) 772-6434 or email usarmy.drum.rso@mail.mil.