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Top enlisted leader visits Armed Forces Retirement Home

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- The U.S. military's most senior enlisted member locked up his office recently in pursuit of other seniors -- senior citizens living in the Armed Forces Retirement Home here.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his travel crew of two soldiers, a sailor, an airman and a Marine spent their workday visiting military veterans and retirees at the home.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home is funded by 50 cents deducted from all military enlisted members' pay each month, and only former enlisted servicemembers may reside here. Whether the residents once wore green fatigues or blue dungarees, Sergeant Major Gainey and his staff gave the retirees something a half dollar just cannot buy: their time.

"How are you doing, ma'am? So I hear you were in the Army, but you were married to a sailor. Well I won't hold that against you," Sergeant Major Gainey jokingly said to a 87-year-old World War II veteran. "I thank you and your husband for giving me my freedom.
"It's not about the Navy, the Marines Corps, the Air Force or even the Army. It's just about us, yesterday and today," Sergeant Major Gainey said. "You cover up the branch name on everybody's uniform and what's left? The initials 'U.S.' I thank you for your service."

The Armed Forces Retirement Home is a true home to more than 1,000 former U.S. military members. The 272-acre college-like campus keeps residents busy and entertained with an indoor movie theater, a bowling alley, a fitness center, two fishing ponds and a nine-hole golf course. Yet for many veterans, no commodity can compare to the joy of sharing war stories with today's servicemembers.

"(Sergeant Major Gainey) was telling me about how nice it is over in Okinawa, Japan. I was laughing at how much it has changed. Back in World War II, we got bombed nearly every day over there," 85-year-old veteran Charles K. Wallace said. "I'd hardly call it nice. The bombs used to explode so hard that it would knock me out of my rack while I was sleeping. I can't complain. At least I was able to get up. Not everyone was so lucky back then."

Nine-year Army Air Corps veteran Edna K. Ast celebrated her 97th birthday during the Gainey's surprise visit.

"I'm just happy to have made it this long," she said. "I was shocked to have so many new visitors for my birthday. I enjoyed today's visit so much. Sergeant Major Gainey and his staff really made my day."

Whether visiting with smiling veterans with walkers or talkative retirees in wheelchairs, Sergeant Major Gainey and his joint team enjoyed their time spent with those who once wore the uniform they wear today.

"The trip was good. It brings you back down to earth," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Kohles, who provides security for Sergeant Major Gainey. "It made their day to see us in our new uniforms. They were surprised with how much the services have changed. I enjoyed comparing and contrasting stories with them.

"Fifty cents just isn't enough for what they've done. I would gladly pay more money in to the AFRH," Sergeant Kohles said. "One day that could be me. There were people there that had two years in service, and some were retired 25-year veterans. The AFRH is a good deal. It's too bad more don't come out to visit."

Officials here said the Armed Forces Retirement Home is always looking for military and civilian volunteers to help out in their fish ponds, flower beds, and dining areas. Many take for granted the residential "house of heroes" located near the White House and the Capitol and once home to four U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln. Yet the Defense Department's top enlisted leader realizes that future trips here are just a hop, skip and a jump away from his office at the Pentagon.

"I would encourage everyone one in uniform to find time to visit the AFRH," Sergeant Major Gainey said. "The minute you enter the door, you will feel the warmth. You'll actually be reliving history with every veteran you talk with. I plan on coming back at least once a month."