Retirement made special by friends, family and recording artist

by Capt. Shannon Mann
916th Air Refueling Wing

3/30/2006 - Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. -- Military retirement is a day that many people remember.

Retirees remember a long and lustrous career, they remember that family and friends were there to share in the bittersweet joy and they remember the emotion that comes with leaving behind their brothers and sisters in arms. For many it is a day that will remain in their memories forever.

For three 916th civil engineers the day was made even more memorable because of RCA recording artist Clay Aiken.

Mr. Aiken, a cousin of retiree Master Sgt. Terry Thompson, offered to sing the national anthem for the ceremony that was held on Sunday, March 12 at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.

Mr. Aiken launched to national fame when he was named runner-up in Fox’s 2nd season hit show American Idol.

The 27-year-old Raleigh native was brought on base quietly so as not to draw too much attention away from the significance of the day and the retirees.

Lt. Col. Timothy Lamb, former commander of the CES, commented that this was possibly the biggest retirement ceremony the 916th had ever seen.

With nearly 200 family, friends and co-workers in the audience many were surprised when Clay Aiken was announced by emcee Tech. Sgt. Butch Bailey. Mr. Aiken sang a flawless rendition of the national anthem and then stayed to watch his cousin retire.

Master Sgts. Scott Cooper and Greg Bennett were also on stage, putting an end to nearly 75 years of collective military service.

Col. Paul Sykes, wing commander and Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Smith, command chief, welcomed the families and presented coins to the retirees and Mr. Aiken for their service.

“This is such an important day for Sergeants Cooper, Thompson and Bennett,” said Colonel Sykes. “Their dedication to the 916th is exemplary of our core values; and the fact that Clay Aiken could be here makes it that much more special.”

Ms. Kelly Thompson, daughter of Sergeant Terry Thompson, also joined in the festivities by singing two songs for the audience, making the entertainment portion of the ceremony a real family affair.

Colonel Lamb addressed the audience telling them that the squadron was ‘losing a ton of leadership ability.”

Each retiree received a flag flown over the nation’s Capitol, their citation of retirement, flowers for their spouses and then they each addressed the crowd giving moving and memorable parting words.

Sergeant Cooper was visibly emotional thanking his family and co-workers and letting his mother know “Mom, I’m getting out.” Sergeant Bennett delivered a message about leadership and continuing to mentor the young Airmen of the squadron and Sergeant Thompson wrapped it all up with memories of the past and plans for the future. The impact of their careers on the unit and the unit’s impact on their lives were unmistakable.

The two-hour ceremony ended with Ms. Thompson singing ‘You raise me up’ by Josh Groban, leaving few dry eyes in the auditorium.
The memory of the day will not only live in the minds of the retirees, but all those present who witnessed the emotion, the camaraderie and the end of three outstanding military careers.

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