By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneOctober 16, 2009
This yearAca,!a,,cs Military Retiree Appreciation Day at Redstone Arsenal was all about life changes -- life changes that make a positive impact, that lead to reassessments and new commitments, that make a difference in the lives of others.
Health care exhibitors including Fox Army Health Center, Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center provided information about managing health issues, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Volunteer agencies like Still Serving Veterans and Army Community Service offered both services and volunteer opportunities. And program speakers urged attendees to make the most of their retirement years.
The two-day event gave retirees a glimpse of the life changes they can make in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Leading those life changes was one of the ArmyAca,!a,,cs most active military retirees Aca,!" Jack Tilley, who prefers to be introduced as the former Aca,!" not the retired Aca,!" 12th sergeant major of the Army. Tilley brought his message of life changes to the second day of the annual Military Retiree Appreciation Day event, held Oct. 2 at the Officers and Civilians Club and Oct. 3 at the Sparkman CenterAca,!a,,cs Bob Jones Auditorium and cafeteria.
His message Aca,!" interspersed with personal antidotes Aca,!" told of his deep faith in God, his belief that the U.S. still stands for hope, peace and equality throughout the world, and his willingness to continue in his service to the nation despite carrying the label Aca,!A"retired.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"My name is Jack Tilley. IAca,!a,,cm a retiree. IAca,!a,,cm a Soldier. And I will never stop serving,Aca,!A? he told retirees in closing his presentation on Oct. 3.
But before the closing came so much more.
Aca,!A"I loved serving in the military. I had almost 36 years of service,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm here to tell you about the things that changed my life.Aca,!A?
Tilley, who served as the sergeant major of the Army from June 2000 until his retirement in January 2004, had a military career that included a tour in Vietnam, and stints as a tank commander, section leader, drill sergeant, platoon sergeant, senior instructor, operations sergeant and first sergeant. He has served as the command sergeant major of the Central Command; 1st Battalion, 10th Cavalry at Fort Knox, Ky.; 194th Armor Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Germany; and Space and Missile Defense Command in Arlington, Va.
As the ArmyAca,!a,,cs sergeant major, Tilley served as the Army chief of staffAca,!a,,cs personal adviser on all enlisted-related matters, particularly those affecting Soldier training and quality of life.
Tilley, a Bronze Star recipient, said his career and his achievements are Aca,!A"about God. It is about believing. It is about life. It is about believing in all of us, in the Army, in this nation.Aca,!A?
In retirement, his service continues.
Aca,!A"YouAca,!a,,cre still serving, only in a different capacity Aca,!A| Spouses serve, too. Any success IAca,!a,,cve had in my life is because of my wife.Aca,!A?
TilleyAca,!a,,cs retirement includes visits to the Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he has met some of the Soldiers who have made sacrifices in the nationAca,!a,,cs battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has met multiple amputees and even one triple amputee Soldier.
Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm motivated. I like to laugh and have fun,Aca,!A? Tilley said. Aca,!A"But the first Soldier I visited was a 25-year-old double amputee female. What do I say to her to motivate her, to help her'
Aca,!A"It turned out I didnAca,!a,,ct have to say anything. She said to me Aca,!EoeHow do I get out of here' How do I get back in the fight'Aca,!a,,c That young Soldier changed my life. It made me think of things so differently.Aca,!A?
Visiting young Soldiers who have sacrificed so much, but who want to continue serving their nation is a life changing experience, he said.
But TilleyAca,!a,,cs life changes began before retirement. They actually started when he was very young.
Aca,!A"I know my mom and dad loved me and really put me on a great foundation for life,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"The way they trained me Aca,!" I canAca,!a,,ct give that back.Aca,!A?
Another life change occurred when he joined the Army.
Aca,!A"The Army changed my life. You donAca,!a,,ct know how proud I am to say IAca,!a,,cm still serving in the Army. I believe in my Army, your Army, our Army and I will never forget the things they allowed me to do,Aca,!A? he said.
That Army experience included the traumatic conditions of Vietnam.
Aca,!A"When I got to Vietnam, I was scared to death,Aca,!A? Tilley recalled. Aca,!A"I didnAca,!a,,ct know what to do except listen to my sergeant.
Aca,!A"My unit was overrun by the enemy when I was there. Half the unit was killed. I remember picking up pieces of my friends. Here it is, 40 years later, and I canAca,!a,,ct forget about that.Aca,!A?
TodayAca,!a,,cs Soldiers have had similar experiences that forever change their life, he said.
Aca,!A"Anyone who has gone to war doesnAca,!a,,ct want to go back to war. But they go back to war because their country calls them to war,Aca,!A? Tilley said.
Aca,!A"War changed my life. It makes me look at things so differently now. It makes me appreciate things so much more. Less than 1 percent of our population serves in the military. ItAca,!a,,cs about standing up and doing the right thing each and every day.Aca,!A?
His family Aca,!" including two sons, one living with the symptoms of meningitis, and two granddaughters Aca,!" has also changed his life. He was especially changed by his oldest sonAca,!a,,cs illness.
Aca,!A"He was temporarily blind and deaf, and had 20 to 30 convulsions a day,Aca,!A? Tilley recalled of his sonAca,!a,,cs condition at the age of 8 or 9. Aca,!A"They put a lumbar shunt in his spine and that took the pressure off his brain. I didnAca,!a,,ct tell anyone. I didnAca,!a,,ct know how people would react. In the military, you sort of keep things to yourself.
Aca,!A"But weAca,!a,,cre altogether in this. We all help each other out. We were at Fort Lewis, Wash., and I remember thinking Aca,!EoeHeAca,!a,,cs going to die. ItAca,!a,,cs not fair. I believe in life. I believe in God. IAca,!a,,cm a Soldier. I do the things I think are right each and every day.Aca,!a,,cAca,!A?
He recalled the day he went to the chaplain and prayed to God.
Aca,!A"All the people we have lost, all the pain theyAca,!a,,cve gone through, and all the families and what they go through, and now itAca,!a,,cs at my doorstep,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I prayed Aca,!EoeGod, let him live or let him die.Aca,!a,,cAca,!A?
The next day, his sonAca,!a,,cs seizures stopped.
Aca,!A"What happened'Aca,!A? Tilley asked his audience. Aca,!A"My son Aca,!A| He changed my life. Today he is 36 with the mentality of a 14-year-old. But he is my son.Aca,!A?
Tilley was serving at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. He recalled office mates telling him to turn on the television to see the aftermath of the first plane attack on the World Trade Center.
Aca,!A"I saw the second plane hit,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I told everyone that they shouldnAca,!a,,ct think that couldnAca,!a,,ct happen to us. The Pentagon is a target.Aca,!A?
Tilley then went to a meeting outside the Pentagon. Thirty minutes later, as he was returning, an airplane struck the Pentagon.
Aca,!A"One hundred, seventy-four people died. Three I donAca,!a,,ct count because they were terrorists,Aca,!A? he said of the Pentagon strike. Aca,!A"I tried to go in and save part of our family. I lost some good friends that day. I canAca,!a,,ct forget.Aca,!A?
It is because of those life changes that Tilley continues to serve the military and the nation. He is still continuing his mission in wartime -- making trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, just as he did as the ArmyAca,!a,,cs sergeant major. HeAca,!a,,cs going there to support Soldiers, to show them their country still cares about them, to help them deal with the terms of their deployments.
Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm not stopping serving no matter what,Aca,!A? he said.
Aca,!A"Everything I did (in my career) was about life. It was about protecting and defending the Constitution. It was about giving. It was about doing what is right for our Army. I canAca,!a,,ct stop now.Aca,!A?