Retiring: It can be hard to say good-bye
Paul Levesque and wife, Dawn, gather by the Rhode Island state flag following his retirement ceremony March 7 at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. Levesque is from Rhode Island and is retiring as a Department of the Army Civilian as a public affairs specialist with nearly 41 years of service. (Photo by Jon Micheal Connor, ASC Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Jon Connor) VIEW ORIGINAL

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- As I prepare to retire from federal service after a career that dates back to July 1982, I have a message for my coworkers: You’re not making this easy.

I say this because the people I work with in the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, and the larger organization known as ASC’s Office of Communication and Engagement, have been so kind, so generous, so thoughtful, and just plain so nice to me. It’s going to be hard for me to leave them.

But, when you’ve worked for over 40 years and find yourself at a point in life when your 70th birthday is on the horizon, it’s clear that the time has come. Also, my beautiful wife Dawn just retired herself, and if she’s going to go, I’m going too.

So, I’m confident that I’m making the right decision, and I’m looking forward to setting my own schedule and not being tied to the clock. However, I’m not looking forward to losing the camaraderie you feel and sense of purpose you get from being a member of a well-functioning, high-achieving team.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some great people over the decades, and the retirement process has triggered many memories of my past comrades. They were great, but I respectfully submit that the team I’m a member of now is the best I’ve ever been on.

The Public Affairs field tends to attract individuals who are smart, creative, and opinionated, with unique personalities that may not fit in easily in other occupations. These are my kind of people, and when we’re meshing, it creates a working environment that suits me perfectly.

How, you may ask, did I get here? A little about myself: I was raised in a little southern New England town called Tiverton, Rhode Island. I am proud of my roots and am the only member of my immediate family who has moved away from the area, which I still count as home and visit when I can.

I was marginally employed and adrift in life when I took a civil service exam in 1982. I met someone at Logan Airport in Boston who conducted a quick interview with me; soon thereafter, I was offered a job at the now-defunct U.S. Army Depot Systems Command in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

I spent a few years there as an intern, then worked at Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas, and was then offered a promotion for a position at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. So I loaded up my old Honda Civic and headed north, arriving here in November 1986.

My first job here was serving as editor of the Target, a monthly newspaper serving the entire installation, which then, as now, hosted organizations that performed a wide variety of logistics-related missions. I saw my mission as covering the entire Arsenal, so I went into just about every building, spoke to hundreds of people, covered dozens of events, and gathered information about the past and present of an Army post that truly is like no other.

In case you don’t know, Rock Island Arsenal is on an island in the Mississippi River, between the states of Illinois and Iowa, smack dab in the middle of a metropolitan area known as the Quad Cities. If any other military installation fits that profile, I’m unaware of it.

The Arsenal’s workforce is mostly civilian, like me, though we are under military leadership. You may or may not have heard of us, but there are people here in this little corner of the Midwest who are the best in the world at what they do – and what we do here is absolutely vital to the readiness of the U.S. Armed Forces.

I have a deep and abiding connection to Rock Island Arsenal that transcends its status as my workplace, and that I know I will always have. I’ll come back from time to time, as a visitor and not an employee, looking at what has changed and what has remained the same, never truly leaving.

On a personal note, I settled in the Quad Cities, met a perfect woman, fell in love, got married, and raised two wonderful children with her. My family means everything to me, and I always decorated my desk with photos of them, as a reminder of what I was working for.

Dawn and I hope to have a great time together in retirement, doing some traveling and spending our kids’ inheritance. Sorry, Chelsea and Andrew, but you’re both going great on your own, and I couldn’t be prouder of you.

In 2000, the Target ceased publication, and after various reorganizations and changes in position title and responsibilities, I made my way to where I am now. I come from a working-class background, so I saw my role as taking on any task that needed to be done – no job too big or too small.

When the pandemic hit a few years ago I began teleworking on a regular basis. Because most of what I do (writing, editing, archiving, speechwriting, etc.) can be performed on a solitary basis, working from home may have increased my productivity. Still, I retained my ties to my teammates – who I now see more often – and the ever-changing circumstances we all faced together during the time of COVID seemed to strengthen those ties.

Rock Island Arsenal is home to a national cemetery – one more unique aspect of this installation – which is located at the eastern tip of the island. When I do come into the office, my route of travel to and from home takes me past the cemetery.

As someone much wiser than me once observed, this cemetery, like all others, is filled with irreplaceable people. Yet the world keeps turning, and life goes on.

I accept the fact that I will be replaced, probably quite easily, and I’m well aware that an Army, which has moved on without the likes of Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower, will get along just fine without me.

But while we all can and will be replaced, I believe that we all deserve to be remembered, and recognized for whatever contributions we have made. I cannot control how I’ll be remembered, but I hope it’s somewhat fondly, and I hope that my contributions, small as they may have been, made a positive difference.

I’ve been called on to write many a speech during my career, and I’ve heard quite a few, so I can tell that I’ve gone on too long. So I’ll close with a tagline I often wrote at the end of speeches:

Thank you very much, and may God bless you all.