20 Years And The Water Gun Banquet

“Magic Marv,“ formerly known as “Mad Marv,” was retiring from the Air Force after 20 years. They called him “Magic,” for the way he knew the answer to anything you needed. “Mad,” came from all the yelling he did at Airmen who didn’t know answers he thought they should. Both sides of Marv wanted an informal retirement ceremony. Which is how we wound up at the all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet. 

Marv’s ceremony and an annual awards banquet were two events on the same day that I had the chance to attend while visiting one of my Air Force families. The events were totally different yet, in some ways they were exactly the same. 

Magic/Mad Marv

The 10 of us ate-all-we-could for $6/person. That’s either a great deal or just my reverse sticker-shock when outside of Manhattan. Then Marv’s boss, Senior Master Sergeant Tracy, got up to say a few words. She spoke of his talents and contributions over the years. That part I expected. Then simply and almost gently, she spoke of a difficult time in Afghanistan. How Marv helped prepare the young Airmen around him and others for what they would face and how much that meant to her. Even though she didn’t come out and say it, it was clear they had lost troops in their unit that day. While some other professions face life and death together, the vast majority of us don’t. We aren’t asked to give everything to a mission or co-workers up to and including our lives. Being reminded of that in this context was striking.

Thoughtful gifts and certificates of appreciation are also part of saying goodbye. But what I liked best is when Sergeant Tracy asked Mrs. Marv to stand. Then she handed Mrs. Marv a bouquet of flowers and thanked her for her service…for all the long hours and late nights waiting for Marv, for all the support she gave him at home and during deployments. For everything she went through too. Then she handed her a retirement pin to add to his uniform. As Mrs. Marv placed it on his lapel, Sergeant Tracy said, “Thank you for letting us borrow your husband for 20 years. This pin symbolizes his return to civilian life. We are giving him back to you. You are now his commander again.” There was laughter and a few tears. Marv said some words too. None of them angry and a few of them magical in a Marv way.

There may be water guns

When I was told there would be another function, I asked what the dress code was. “Well, it’s a banquet. And there may be water guns. So, business casual.” Of course. I also found out over 1,000 people would be attending.

There are times in life for formal banquets with white tablecloths, waiters and flower arrangements. This was not one of them. It was being held in an airplane hangar and catered by a local barb-b-que joint. I’ve been to annual awards banquets held in very nice ballrooms and no offense to the Waldorf Astoria but, I thought the hangar was kind of cool.

Airplane Hangar

Not the Waldorf Astoria.

There were four main teams there and each had a color designation, a nickname and a mascot. The mascots appeared to be homemade. Part of the tradition of this event involves attempting to steal the mascots. When one team found theirs missing, they promptly “stole” another team leader’s spouse and forced her to sit at their table until the items were returned. It was an energetic crowd. Yes, one team brought water guns. Luckily I was sitting out of range.

The awards were for outstanding hard work they had done both at home and while deployed last year. That involves some serious stuff. But being able to laugh together is vital to healthy work relationships too. The pride they had in each other was genuine. So was that feeling of family again. Whether they are 10 people or 1,000 they are truly brothers and sisters. And, for one day, I felt like part of the family too.

© Gina left the mall, 2013