A few years ago I was invited to speak at a Dining Out at a Reserve Unit in Colorado.
(For those of you who do not know what a ‘Dining Out’ is, it is a formal military dinner, with a featured speaker. A ‘Dining Out’ is where spouses are invited; a ‘Dining In’ is typically for military members only. These are very formal functions, and you just don’t “screw around” at them. This being said, usually after the dinner are the “informal activities,” and things become a little ‘looser.’)
A friend of my daughter’s was looking for a speaker with Vietnam experience. I didn’t fly over there for a whole year during the hostilities, but I was in and out a few times as a C-141A pilot. That seemed to be ‘good enough’ for Dana’s friend.
So I went out for the event and took Dana as my ‘escort’ through the Arch of Honor.
Now, I have been to 12 – 15 Dining In’s/Dining Out’s over the years, so I was very familiar with the protocol. When I was introduced, I took the podium and just stood there…
And, I stood there – looking out over the guests from that perspective. It was really quite something, to see all those people sitting there. And I stood there for a bit more until I saw where they were beginning to get a bit ‘restless.’ Then I then began.
After my ‘formal introductory remarks,’ I said something like; “Folks, it is truly an honor to stand here before you tonight. I have been to 12 to 15 of these functions over the years, but have never seen one from this perspective – from the podium. And I just wanted to stand here a moment, and savor the experience.” Of course, that comment got a laugh, and I knew I ‘had ’em.’ I then continued with my opening remarks, “I don’t know exactly what I am going to say this evening; I was not able to bring my teleprompter on the aircraft coming out here.” (Another laugh.) I then began speaking on what it was like being in the service during the Vietnam conflict.
I spoke for about 10 minutes or so, perhaps a bit ‘short’ for a Dining Out, and I thought I had said enough. And I spoke “off the cuff,” as I am prone to do in these occasions. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I do remember thinking later that I wished I had jotted down some salient points that I had thought about earlier. I do however, remember my closing remarks.
I mentioned that I had been an “Air Force Brat;” Dear Ole Dad had been in the Air Force. I then took it from there to explain that I a nice ‘house’ in NW Ohio that was slowly becoming a ‘home.’ “But,” I said, “it isn’t until I drive through the gate of an Air Force base, or I am in the company like I am tonight, that I actually ‘feel’ at home. And so, in closing, I want to thank your commander and the folks who invited me to speak this evening – and most of all, you folks, for allowing me ‘to come home’ tonight, even if it was for just a little bit. I am truly honored, and humbled.” And with that, and being a little ‘choked up,’ I sat down…
As I ‘debriefed myself’ later, I did think of a few things I wished I had said. But I didn’t dwell too long on them as there was nothing to come of it. This morning I am grateful I had the opportunity to speak at that function, and I remain humbled that they asked me… And today my home continues to grow as a “home,” especially when the jets from out at the base fly overhead…