ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Hundreds of area retirees attended the annual Retiree Appreciation Day at the APG North (Aberdeen) recreation center Oct. 20. The APG Retiree Council and Team APG hosted the event. Guests included Installation and CECOM Commander Maj. Gen. Robert Ferrell; Garrison and Deputy Installation Commander Col. Gregory McClinton and guest speaker Kenneth Preston, former Sergeant Major of the Army.

"We are here to take care of the men and women who took care of us," McClinton said during opening remarks. "You are an important part of the Army community and we salute you."

He remarked on changes to the installation, specifically the ongoing renovations to the Post Commissary, pointing out that the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) made the decision to support not only Soldiers but the retiree community. He encouraged listeners to continue taking advantage of APG facilities and services and to offer feedback "to ensure we are doing things to meet those needs."

Retired Sgt. Maj. Frank Yoakum, co-chair of the APG Retiree Council, introduced Preston as "the longest serving Sergeant Major of the Army" and the president and director of Homes for Our Troops, the nonprofit organization that provides specially adaptive homes for Wounded Warriors.

Preston hailed the attendees as "recruiters," "mentors," and "force multipliers," and strong supporters of services from the PX to Morale, Welfare and Recreation. He offered updates to the status of several pending and current initiatives such as the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA) which will reinstate the 15-year retirement for noncommissioned officers denied continued service due to Qualitative Service requirements.

"The norm is still 20 years retirement," he said.

He talked about and encouraged listeners to learn more about Survivor Benefit Plans (SBP), Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC), Current Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) and other benefit improvements.

Noting that the Army Echoes magazine for retirees is transitioning to electronic copies, Preston stressed the importance of logging onto MyArmyBenefits (MAB) [myarmybenefits.us.army.mil] to keep abreast of current legislation affecting military benefits.

"It's a library," he said. "You will find over time as benefits change and evolve that this is an important source of information."

He said that while the nation and its military departments shave their budgets down, benefits such as TRICARE and Military Retirement Pay will continue to be challenged and that retirees should continue to support organizations that give them a voice in the halls of Congress.

Preston took questions from the audience and then praised retirees for their community presence in supporting the nation while at war.

"I know retirees helped America stay in touch and now that I'm retired I have a greater sense of just how much difference retirees make," he said in closing.

He asked all to visit the displays and, "take advantage of all the installation has done to provide information for you."

"All of you are key influences," he said. "I'm very proud of all of you and your service."

More than 30 installation, county, state, federal and national organizations displayed information and services. Garrison organizations included Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic which provided flu shots, blood pressure checks and other health-related information; the Directorate of Human Resources, which updated retiree ID cards; as well as the Directorate of Emergency Services; the Directorate of Plans, Training Mobilization and Security; Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate and the Office of the Installation Chaplain. Post organizations included the Army Substance Abuse Program; the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS); the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA); the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES); Picerne Military Housing; and the CECOM Inspector General. Guest organizations included the VA Maryland Health Care System; Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs; Charlotte Hall Veterans Home; Harford County Office on Aging; Harford County Veterans Commission; the APG Federal Credit Union; Freedom Federal Credit Union; Bank of America; the Better Business Bureau; Delta Dental; Express Scripts; HealthNet Federal Services; U.S. Family Health Plan at Johns Hopkins; Wisconsin Physicians Service; the Association of the United States Army; the Military Officers Association of America; the National Association for Uniformed Services; the Noncommissioned Officers Association; the Retired Enlisted Association; the United Services Automobile Association and the Women's Army Corps Veterans Association (Aberdeen Chapter 70).

Attendees and vendors said the day offered productive interactions.

Julie Graham and Chris Davis, of the Elkton Vet Center and VA Maryland Health Care, said their focus was on providing information about counseling services for combat veterans as well as bereavement counseling and employment assistance along with their other services.

"A lot of people don't even know these services are available so close to home," Davis said.

Graham added that along with the Elkton location, VA outstations include one in Cambridge and another in Aberdeen at 223 W. Bel Air Avenue, 410-272-6771.

Visit the website at www.vetcenter.va.gov for more information," she said.

Cardell Bass, of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs signed up several retirees who requested information about filing claims.

"We're a service organization and one important thing we do is assist veterans in filing claims," Bass said. "It's all to help them understand the VA process."

"I really enjoyed the day. I got my ID and my [car] sticker renewed," said Army retiree William Hendriks as he got his blood pressure checked at the KUSAHC display.

Antonio Bonilla, a former Marine who retired in 2010, said he enjoyed Preston's presentation.

"It was good of him to take the time to come out just to talk to us," he said. "It leaves you with a good feeling about the retiree network."

"Sarah Ballard, a Maryland Army National Guard retiree from Brooklyn, Md, said she usually attends the Fort Meade event but came to APG instead this year.

"I got a lot of good information," she said. "I wasn't sure what to expect but I really enjoyed this.

Henry Allen, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, said all of his questions were answered during the Question & Answer session with Preston, who he spoke with afterward.

"I wanted to convey that while we appreciate the information and results we got from the [Suicide Prevention] stand down earlier this month, it needs to be stressed that there are not enough resources to treat everyone in need and that guys on the waiting list are committing suicide," he said. "I got good feedback [from Preston] and I enjoyed this event more than I expected."

APG Retiree Council members include retired Lt. Col. Nelson Laughton, chairman; retired Sgt. Maj. Frank Yoakum, co-chair; Betty Willard, Garrison retirement services officer; retired 1st Sgt. Tom Shumate; retired Master Sgt. Lonzia Hawkins; retired Sgt. 1st Class Louise Leon-Guerrero; retired Sgt. 1st Class Richard N. Zalusky and Janet Dettwiler, APG Adjutant General and director of Human Resources.

For more information about the council and retiree events and services, visit the APG Retiree Council website at http://www.apgretiree.com/.

View more Retiree Appreciation Day photos on the APG Flickr site at www.flickr.com/photos/usagapg.