All Good Things Must Come To An End

All Good Things Must Come To An End

All of my adult life, I’ve worn the uniform of the United States Navy. Until today. After 24 years of combined active and reserve service, I officially retire from the United States Armed Forces today, July 1st, 2017. As you might imagine, it is with very mixed emotions.

My military service began with boot camp at RTC Orlando, Florida with Company 055. After graduating from boot camp, it was on to the Quartermaster ‘A’ School, also in Orlando, which in the Navy, means navigation. And at the end of that, a set of orders to my first command, the U.S.S. Arleigh Burke DDG-51, the namesake of her class, a guided missile Aegis destroyer. She was (and is) an amazing warship, and her crew was some of the finest human beings I had the great privilege of serving with. I remain in touch and close to many of that crew to this day.

Receiving my Enlisted Surface Warfare Qualification (ESWS) from the captain of the U.S.S. Arleigh Burke.

A picture I took from the Statue of Liberty during Fleet Week in New York City. I’m still chilled when I see a picture of those towers.

While I was immensely proud of my ship, I was always motivated to see if I had the mental and physical toughness to qualify for an elite unit. I’d heard about the Navy’s Special Boat Teams, and had met someone who’d gone to, but not made it through selection. He’d described the discomforts and difficulties, all of which made me want to do it more. I submitted a request chit through my chain of command to apply for orders to SWCC selection (Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman), and after a little bargaining and begging, it was approved. I then had to go to a SWCC team in Little Creek, Virginia to be interviewed and to take a physical screening test (pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, running, and swimming). While on the Arleigh Burke, I’d followed a strict daily regimen of 500 pushups, 500 sit-ups, along with about an hour of additional calisthenics to prepare myself. One day, while we were at sea, I received a call from a radioman while I was on the bridge, that my orders to SWCC school had been received. Since this particular radioman had served in the Special Warfare community previously, he knew what those orders meant (Thank you Woody!).

The image used for SWCC recruiting. Shhh – you had me at perpetually cold, wet, and tired.

I arrived at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California in the first few days of June, 1997. Here, I have to relate a funny story that was not at all funny at the time. The very first event that occurs when you arrive to SWCC selection is class formation and a dress whites inspection. Mind you, this inspection is brutal – we had been told by others who had endured it to be prepared – it would not be pleasant, so everyone went out and purchased brand new uniforms, ribbons, shoes, and had them starched to a cardboard-like perfection. You could slice meat with the sharpness of our creases. Just prior to inspection, we mustered for lunch at the chow hall. I didn’t want to risk getting so much as a crumb on my uniform, so I ate nothing. The sailor next to me took the risk of eating a full meal including French fries smothered in ketchup. I thought that was a terrible choice. At the end of the meal, a civilian employee came to our table to collect our plates. He took my clean plate, then reached over me to take away the plate of the sailor sitting next to me. As if in slow motion, I could see the plate turn precariously to one side, where gravity began pulling at the large glob of ketchup. The ketchup slid entirely free of the plate, hung momentarily in the air directly above my left thigh, then landed with a splash, complete with associated ketchup shrapnel droplets on the periphery, on my aforementioned left thigh. In that moment, I was certain that this civilian person had just signed my death warrant. My fellow SWCC candidates looked at me with a combination of pity and horror – like I was the captain of a sinking ship, watching as the sea was about to irretrievably envelope me for now and forever. Despite my best efforts at removing the offending bright red blob, I had now left to contend with a much larger pink area that nearly covered the entirety of my thigh. This was bad. Very, very bad.

We lined up in formation and waited for the insatiably carnivorous instructor staff to arrive and tear to shreds all of us well-dressed slabs of raw meat. The instructors were nearly as numerous as us SWCC candidates, so there was no threat of suffering from lack of very personalized attention. One after another, I could hear my fellow candidates endure the ravenous barks of Lead Instructor W as he identified such unforgivable offenses as a whisker missed in the process of shaving, or a hair that had the unmitigated audacity to creep out from under a blindingly white cover. Then, my turn came. Instructor W’s nose was less than an inch from mine – I suspect he had consumed a good deal of coffee without the benefit of brushing his teeth at any point thereafter, and scrutinized every pore on the skin of my face. He then took a step back and pointed to my now bright pink thigh. “What is that?”, to which I replied “Ketchup.” This didn’t appear to satisfy this line of inquiry. “Did this just happen?” said instructor W. “Yes.” I replied. Instructor W then very slowly, with a degree of intimidation I’ve not felt since, leaned in so that his mouth was next to my ear, and said, “I WILL see YOU later.”, which was not entirely dissimilar from that phrase being uttered to a death row prisoner by a hangman working intently on a noose.

Though selection was considerably more difficult than I’d prepared for, and despite many of my classmates choosing to DOR (Drop On Request) rather than endure another day of discomforts, I made it.

My SWCC class during selection. We’d just completed a ‘swimmer surf passage’ where we swim in from the sea and sneak onshore. We camouflaged ourselves with kelp, which sadly, was entirely infused with itchy little insects. I’m standing in the back row, second from left.

I received orders to my Team and quickly discovered that selection was actually the easy part – that life as a combat-ready SWCC only got tougher once you made it to your Team. I deployed thereafter to some unpleasant places, and served with some of the finest warriors this nation has ever produced.

Prepped for a training mission carrying Big ‘Ol Girl – the M-60 machine gun. I could listen to her talk all day.

A training mission in an angry Atlantic ocean. That’s me in the front just prior to being slammed by an incoming wave and thrown against the console, where the person taking this photo was standing.

At the end of my first SpecWar tour, for family reasons, I transitioned from active duty to reserve. Ironically, I deployed as much in the reserves as I did active duty. Shortly thereafter, the unspeakable savagery of 9/11 occurred. Since that time, I’ve deployed to such places as Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

A picture of me in Iraq, somewhere between Fallujah and Ramadi.

Me fastroping from a helicopter just before dawn in the Middle East.

On this closing day of my life as a Navy man, I am filled with gratitude, humility, and an indescribable pride for having been given the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with men and women who live by a code of honor that, in my opinion, is increasingly rare.

The Abbott clan: my sons Thomas and Billy, and my wife Shelly. Their support, selflessness, and sheer endurance in standing by me through the rigors of a Navy career make any sacrifices I may have made pale in comparison.

Myself flanked by two extraordinary warriors I had the great honor to deploy with.

The Navy Core Values: Honor, Courage, and Commitment – perhaps lofty-sounding words to those who haven’t witnessed them in action, who haven’t observed our nation’s finest living it to the letter, and who haven’t seen first hand the sacrifices made to personify those values. Each and every one of you who continues to defend me, my family, my freedom, and our way of life, may God Bless and keep you. I stand relieved – you’ve got the watch.

Me on the forward gun of a SWCC boat, riding appropriately off into the sunset.

Senior Chief Petty Officer, retired.

 

61 Comments

  • Hannah Allgaier Posted July 1, 2017 12:27 pm

    Enjoy retirement with your family!
    All the best to you.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 3, 2017 8:06 am

      Thank you Hannah!

  • Jim Button Posted July 1, 2017 12:42 pm

    Thank you for your service sir. And I love the toons too

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 3, 2017 8:06 am

      Thank you Jim – I’m glad you like them!

  • Robert Spratley Posted July 1, 2017 1:08 pm

    Congratulations on you retirement and return to civilian life. I thank you for your service to the country. I hope that you can return to a normal,or as close as can be gotten,to a normal civilian lifestyle.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 3, 2017 8:07 am

      I appreciate that Robert – thank you!

  • Joie Gilstrap Posted July 1, 2017 1:12 pm

    God bless you and your family, and thank you for your bravery and service.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:25 pm

      Thank you Joie.

  • Jim Augustin Posted July 1, 2017 1:23 pm

    Thank You Senior Chief, what a great Navy career. All the best to you. I enjoy your cartoon humor very much.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:25 pm

      I appreciate that Jim – thank you!

  • Simon Lake Posted July 1, 2017 2:11 pm

    As you were Chief!

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:26 pm

      Thank you Simon!

  • MaryAnn Olleck Posted July 1, 2017 2:23 pm

    For you do, did, and will do, we salute you. Thank You.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:26 pm

      Thank you MaryAnn.

  • Kim R Long USN, EO1 Retired Posted July 1, 2017 2:29 pm

    Happy and Unhappy Day Senior Chief, I also retired with mixed blessing, I wanted to stay but I needed a change! Fair winds and following seas!

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:26 pm

      Thank you Kim – and thank you for your service.

  • Rick Posted July 1, 2017 3:03 pm

    Congratulations 🎈
    Thank you for your service and commitment to our freedom. I’m a retired Marine; Vietnam: dog recon scout. Semper Fedlis and thank you for your great cartoons.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:27 pm

      You’re very welcome Rick – and thank you for all you’ve done for my freedom.

  • LaRoy D Callahan Posted July 1, 2017 3:13 pm

    Awesome i also started out on the Arleigh Burke an SK now i am a STG

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:28 pm

      That’s great LaRoy – she’s one heck of a good ship. Thank you for your service.

  • Rosemary McKenna Posted July 1, 2017 3:31 pm

    Thank you for your service and an extra big thank you to your wife and sons who were your compass and anchor when you needed it. From the proud aunt of an active duty LtJG on the USS Pasadena and 3 Marine Corps veterans. Fair winds and following seas πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ(did I get it right?)

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:29 pm

      You certainly did Rosemary – and please send my best to your family members in uniform – they are much appreciated!

  • Judith O’Pry Posted July 1, 2017 5:08 pm

    I could feel your emotion reading this blog. Thank you for your service to this country. Good job! Now on to your illustrious cartooning career continuing your service to this country with your humor. God bless you and your family.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:30 pm

      Thank you Judith.

  • Geoff Posted July 1, 2017 5:34 pm

    Wow !!! And you still have great sense of humour perhaps it was an outlet of sorts? Your family should also be congratulated for their service as well as many militarily family’s don’t last. Congratulations on your retirement may you forever stay young
    Kindest regards Geoff .ex Royal New Zealand Air force. Helicopters side gunner. Whenupai

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:30 pm

      Thank you Geoff – and my respect to you for your service.

  • SM2 (SW) Bradley Wert Posted July 1, 2017 7:57 pm

    An honor to serve with such a soldier!

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 12:30 pm

      The honor was mine, brother.

  • Lowell Bowler Posted July 1, 2017 8:14 pm

    Thank you for your service Bill! You have my deepest respect

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:13 pm

      Thank you Lowell – I appreciate that.

  • John Juarez Posted July 1, 2017 9:51 pm

    Congrats on your retirement Senior!
    HT1/USN/Ret sends.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:13 pm

      Thank you John – and thank you for your service.

  • Tom Fitzgibbon Posted July 1, 2017 9:55 pm

    Thank you for your service and uncanny sense of humor

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:13 pm

      Thank you Tom.

  • Debi DiTullio Posted July 1, 2017 10:22 pm

    Your a good man Bill. It is a pleasure to know you. Thank you for your service and love for this country and it’s freedoms. You are one of the best cartoonists and now you have more time to devote to humor. Continued success as I look forward to my Dailey “read”…and chuckle! Hugs!

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:14 pm

      Thank you Mrs. DiTullio – it’s an honor to know you and your wonderful family – even David!

  • Bill LaRocque Posted July 1, 2017 11:20 pm

    By my count you’re the second 1st rate cartoonist from our Navy. Hope you’ve met Jeff Bacon. What an amazing career, congratulations. BTW, USAF guys are funnier.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:16 pm

      Thank you for that Bill – I haven’t met Jeff Bacon, but I hope I get the opportunity. USAF guys are indeed funnier – you can’t help but be in good humor with the Ritz-like barracks they provide!

  • Bill Mielniczuk Posted July 2, 2017 12:34 am

    Thank you for your service. Best of luck in your future endeavors.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:17 pm

      Thank you Bill.

  • John C. Gordon 1st Plt. B Co. 1/502 Inf., 101st Airborne Posted July 2, 2017 1:39 am

    May your retirement be as bright as those wonderful faces of your boys. My own stint in the military was short, but none the less filled with enough laughs and adventure to last a life time. I thank you for sharing some of your personal life, it gives substance as well as a face to “Spectickles”. On my own retirement from education I was presented with a duplicate of ” An Old Irish Curse” which its original hangs at Patersons in Mendecino, Ca. “May those that love us love us/ and those that don’t love us may God turn their hearts. If He can’t turn their hearts may he turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping” . Have a good one.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:18 pm

      I like that Old Irish Curse – thank you John – and thank you for your service.

  • Valerie Parker Posted July 2, 2017 2:05 am

    Well done Bill for making it through the horrors of combat. Enjoy your well earned retirement and family life xxx

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:18 pm

      Thank you Valerie.

  • Bill Buffaloe Posted July 2, 2017 7:45 am

    I appreciate your service to our country, and I appreciate your talented drawing and weird sense of humor. I should think that you should be a syndicated cartoon strip in every newspaper in this country. Not since the reign of “Calvin” have I looked forward to or enjoyed the kind of insight into the plight of your comedic alter ego that you portray in your attempts to bring joy and laughter to our troubled world!πŸ‘πŸ˜

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:19 pm

      Thank you Bill – your kind remarks mean more to me than you know.

  • Doug Shaffer Posted July 2, 2017 8:35 am

    Thank you for your service

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:19 pm

      Thank you Doug.

  • Eric Feil Posted July 3, 2017 12:44 am

    Thank you for your service and sacrifice to this great country! Congratulations on your retirement!

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:19 pm

      Thank you Eric.

  • Milton Kendrick Posted July 3, 2017 1:21 pm

    Hoorah, sailor. Well done. A “Warriors Title” you’ve earned along with our respect and undying gratitude. Enjoy your retirement. Love your cartoons.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:20 pm

      Thank you Milton – I appreciate that.

  • Thomas Marsh Posted July 3, 2017 6:09 pm

    Congratulations and Thank You ~ I had no idea!

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:20 pm

      Thank you Thomas.

  • Rob “Stretch” Anselmo Posted July 3, 2017 7:17 pm

    Congratulations warrior and God bless!! You were part of a great era in our community. Enjoy your retirement and the wonderful memories that will fill your years to come.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:21 pm

      Stretch – it’s awesome to hear from you – the last time I saw you, I think it was near the pull-up bars behind Group 4 – and that was a lot of years ago. I hope you’re well and God Bless.

  • Carol and Mike Lamb Posted July 3, 2017 8:04 pm

    Thank you for your service and for bringing outright joy and laughter to so many, after experiencing combat. My hub, was stationed out of McCoy AFB from 1966-1969, and served from 1965-1969 in the 306th Bomb Wing, SAC. He had thought the Naval Base had closed soon after he left McCoy, so it was nice to finally win an argument that the base had stayed active WAY after his NAM era of service, so thank you πŸ™‚ And I didn’t even have to beat him over the head with a stick to do it πŸ™‚ Again, thank you, and this family salutes you and your family on a well earned retirement !

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:22 pm

      Thank you so much Carol – I and my family thank you! My best to your husband, and my thanks for his service.

  • Marianne Miller Posted July 4, 2017 8:24 am

    Enjoyed your story, wishing you a wonderful retirement, you have served your country well and should be very proud of your service.

    • Bill Abbott Posted July 4, 2017 1:22 pm

      Thank you Marianne.

  • Joe Posted July 24, 2017 9:56 pm

    Thank you for your service. Enjoy your much deserved and well earned retirement.

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