By Paul BelloJuly 30, 2009
FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The Year of the NCO continued in true fashion Friday, as a group of Fort Belvoir servicemembers visited their predecessors at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. and their contemporaries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Their visit brought many smiles and laughs, particularly from the veterans sitting in the hallways of the building they now call home. Upon seeing the young group from Belvoir, many veterans gave the thumbs up, symbolic of a job well-done. Some even saluted their fellow Soldiers as a gesture of thanks.
Charles Felder, a resident of the home since 1988, retired from the Army in 1974 after achieving the rank of sergeant first class. During his 20-year career, Felder fondly remembers the camaraderie among Soldiers. Now the facility's designated tour guide, he's more than happy to show groups around, especially one he shares so much in common.
"It's special when Soldiers visit. We may have a few years on them, but we've all done and gone through the same things they're going through now," Felder said with a big smile. "Residents are not shy, either. There are veterans living here who served in World War II and they love talking to guests."
Don Egolf celebrated his 90th birthday on January 8 - which he points out is the same day as Elvis Presley's. He has been living at the home for seven years and keeps busy in the ceramic workshop. He recently finished a sculpture of an Eagle, which he hopes will fetch a few dollars for the facility.
"Whatever we make goes right back into providing different activities for veterans," Egolf said. "My time in the shop is limited because we do so many other things around here. But, I do enjoy the work. It's a nice place to live and everyone is very nice."
Unfortunately for Egolf, he can't live with his wife, Jean. She is blind and has to stay in a facility in Anaheim, Calif. Though their daughter is close by and visits her mother regularly, Egolf said he hasn't seen his wife in three years.
"It's really tough, especially after being married for 69 years," he said. "She can't stay with me here, so that's the next best thing. We talk over the phone, so that's something. It is what it is."
Besides the ceramic workshop, Felder said the home has a 500-seat theater where bands and other ensembles from around the metropolitan area have performed. It also has a bowling alley, fitness center, wood shop and library.
"I guess you can say we have something for everybody here," Felder said.
That's a sentiment Alex Koscak agrees with. A resident for the last 12 years, Koscak is a retired chief petty officer with the Navy.
Originally from Russia, he came to the U.S. with his family and settled in Erie, Pa. several decades ago. He still gets a kick out of seeing casino night advertised around the home.
"I'm not much of a gambler, mainly because I always lose when I do it," Koscak said laughing. "There are other things that keep me busy, so you never really get bored here. My family visits and that's always nice. You can't beat that."
Always good at math, Koscak decided to pursue a career in electronics and found working in the Navy personally rewarding. Though Koscak says his memory is not as sharp as it used to be, he gets pleasure reminiscing over the times he does remember with those who visit, especially younger groups that come by.
"They keep us in the loop. I really enjoy talking to them," Koscak said. "Everyone is very respectful and they always tell us how much they appreciate what we've done for them. Well, we say the same thing to all the young Soldiers who stop by. To us, they're heroes, too."
After spending a few hours at the retirement home, the Belvoir group was off for a quick visit to WRAMC.
Sgt. Audry Webb, who works in occupational therapy at WRAMC's Military Advanced Training Center, showed the group its physical therapy center, as well as some of the exercises geared toward amputee care.
She was assisted by Sarah Kruger, a biomedical engineer who helps Wounded Warriors by using heating technology to determine the amount of force being put on a particular individual's legs.
"We have a unique patient population here at Walter Reed and we look at efficiency through metabolics. This technology helps us put together information that can be applied to one's rehabilitation," Kruger said.
"It also helps us make sure all prosthetics are working properly. It's an invaluable tool and goes a long way in transitioning Soldiers back into a routine they're comfortable with."
Back on post, Belvoir Soldiers were impressed with what they saw and who they spoke with during the course of their visit.
Air Force Sgt. Ilinda Johnson, who is stationed at Belvoir's Air Force Detachment Office, thought it was great that veterans had so many activities right at their fingertips.
"They had everything you could think of. That's fantastic," she said. "I found out they even do field trips in and around D.C. They certainly deserve it. It was fun talking to them. The whole day was great."
Sgt. 1st Class Laura Moore, a member of the installation's Retention Office, was also part of the group that consisted of members of the Army, Air Force and Marines. According to her, the day was very inspiring.
"It's great to see different branches of the military come together and spend time with our veterans and Wounded Warriors," Moore said. "Being the Year of the NCO, this was a terrific thing to do and I hope more people take the time out of their schedule to make a visit."
Then, reminding herself of what Sgt. Maj. Ian Guy, with Belvoir's Directorate of Public Works, told the group before leaving Belvoir earlier that morning, Moore said, "He was absolutely right. This is a day I'll never forget."