Retirement Remarks of CDR Vinson W. Miller, CHC, USN (08 Sept 2017

I recently got to thinking about nearly two years ago, on 8 September, 2017, when I said goodbye to the Navy, my ceremony predating my terminal leave.  I did not have this blog when I was retiring, or I would have posted this back then, to thank those who couldn’t make it!   My focus was less the adventures (anybody that knows me, knows I have stories to tell!), but an occasion to express my gratitude for the many with whom I have shared 24 years of Naval Chaplaincy.  I started out with the toughest part, because I wanted it clear that the most important part of the journey was my family, and none of it would have been feasible without Julie, before moving onto my beloved “RPs” and shipmates who became a part of my life.  So with that, for those who were there and those who weren’t, I remain grateful for the blessing of your life being alongside mine as the interests of our Sailors and Marines were looked after.

Blessings,
Vinson
Hampton, Virginia
11 June 2019

_____________________________________________________

INTRODUCTION

Captain McDaniel, Chaplains, RPs, shipmates, friends, and family, those of David Adams Memorial Chapel, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Chapel, and Commodore Levy Jewish Chapel – thank you for sharing in this celebration and rite of transition for my family and I.

When I graduated from seminary in 1987, my request of God was two-fold:  that wherever I ministered I would see one person’s life changed by my presence – for confirmation that I was in the place God intended, and secondly that I would make at least one lifetime friend in each place I have served – for my own health.  Your presence today is proof of how blessed I am; I thank you for allowing me to use this time to honor God, and to honor Julie, AJ and Ben.

WHY I BRING THIS UP

This ceremony is far less about me and much more about you who have journeyed with my family and me during my Naval career.  No one makes it to 24 years in the Navy alone and without a lot of help along the way!

FOR INSTANCE

In July 1993, days before I was commissioned, I believed the detailer was serious when he asked me where I’d like to go and what kind of duty station.  I said a ship out of the East Coast.  In my mind, that meant Norfolk, not too far from our parents, a nice easy transition into the Navy.  However, I had not said WHICH east coast, and so minutes before Julie and I had to head over to our church for the start of Vacation Bible School, I called upstairs to Julie with the exciting news: “Honey, I got a carrier!”  She yelled down “Alright!”  I called back up, “It’s in Japan!”  She yelled back, “Not on your life!”  I told the detailer I’d call him back later, by which time Julie had talked with her Dad who in his own Naval career as a UDT officer in the early 1950s had deployed out of Yokosuka.  Julie said she was all in and I took the orders to what would become for us our other home.

Immediately initiated into the life of a Navy spouse, already possessing the required independent and resilient soul, Julie packed out the house after I left for chaplain’s school.  I should note here that each of the next three household goods packouts happened while I was deployed, all either to or from overseas and twice while Julie had pneumonia.  While I have been deployed she has had to buy cars, find housing, get the kids in new schools, and she’s even managed the household through a month without power and a house in chaos after Hurricane Isabel rolled through, with me none the wiser, because I was out of contact and in country in the Philippines with the Marines at the time.  I seriously owe you, Julie and the list just gets longer every year for all the ways I have experienced your support, and whatever credit I am due for what I have done as a chaplain, you and the kids have in so many ways quietly borne the real brunt of this life of service and sacrifice, making it possible for me to serve.  If the three most important decisions in my life have been to accept Christ, accept the call of ministry, and to marry Julie, then everything I have accomplished as a Navy Chaplain has had its roots in those very decisions.  I am forever indebted to you, Julie.  You are my best friend in life, my confidant and truth teller through all the years of me being a rather slow student!  The love of my life, I am grateful you have stuck it out with me for now 34 years.  And I am so very proud of you, AJ and Ben.  In all of this, we have marveled as you two have grown into such ethical, wise and grounded adults who truly care about people!

Starting out in this thing called the Navy, having deployed within days of graduating from chaplains school, I entrusted Julie and our then 2 ½ year old daughter AJ in the care of our friends and former church members, Stan and Annley, back here in Virginia.  They, along with Betty Lou and Fido, in June of 1991 had stood just outside the operating room to welcome her into the world as I rushed by with her to the awaiting ICU.  Later, new to Japan, by some miracle we found a house within 2 hours of looking, high up on Shonon Takatori and just down the street from my shipmate, friend and liberty buddy, Ray and his family.  Tina and Julie became fast friends and our kids too, which proved a godsend two years later when I left Julie on the pier just a couple days before Ben would be born, as the INDY had to make an emergent 5-month deployment from Japan to the Gulf.   It would be Tina who was Julie’s labor coach – all 35.5 hours of it, and she remains our son’s beloved “Aunt T” for good reason!  Adoptive aunts and uncles to our children, especially when they were young and in those first ten years in the Navy during which I was gone more a total of more than six years, whether on deployments, exercises, travel or whatever else – well, it made a huge difference knowing you were there.  We love you and are eternally grateful for your abiding friendship.

Wherever we landed overseas, my Mom, the late Rev. Mary Lou Taylor, was soon there to stay plugged in with the kids and to share in our adventure; she would have loved this ceremony and had something to talk about for weeks!  It seems strange to me that as of this year all of our parents are now gone, but are thankful that they were there as we kicked of this adventure as long as we had them.  My sister Adele and Julie’s sister Ann, who are here today, and their rather interesting husbands, have been the mainstay of family connection!  I am really glad you are here today.

Then there are those special friends, the ones that accrue over life and through various Naval assignments and keep one sane amid the drama and nonsense of military life.  Remember how I spoke of that favor I asked of God?  Well, a number of those very friends from SPECWAR to Navy Medicine to Marine Corps to shore installations are here today, some having driven or flown in from as far as Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio and even California.  Even my best friend from seminary days is here today!  When I was dating Julie she said to me “friends are the family we choose.”  She is right!  While I’m not sure who did the choosing, what a neat, loyal, and funny crew we are!  I love ya’ll, and our hope in the post-Navy era of our lives is to be able to focus more of our time locally and in our travels, on our friends.

I wanted today to specifically lift up my gratitude for the Religious Program Specialists, the other half of the Religious Ministry Team.  There is a reason I have listed in the program the names of RPs who I have served alongside and I wished to have an RP as one of my speakers today, thank you RP1 Malloy.  There are just so many ways it would have been impossible to have accomplished what I have through my various tours – without RPs.  RP1 Velasco in my first tour was my “Sea Daddy” when I reported aboard, teaching me what a junior officer and first tour chaplain needed to know to be effective.  RP2 Gaines had this amazing gift of spotting suicidal and/or depressed Sailors and bringing them to me, a gift of observation that I have continued through all my tours to appreciate and encourage among RPs, as those who triage people before they get to the chaplain.  I think about all the creative ways RPs have gotten things fixed, gear acquired or invented, chapels and field services rigged for services, or when I showed up to a Marine infantry battalion in May 2000, the main body gone, RP and I leaving in two days, and me without having been afforded the required CREST training for Sailors going to Marine units.  RP Youmans said “I’ll be your CREST” making sure I had everything I needed to go out the door, teaching me the Marine Corps culture on the fly and supporting me through a long, challenging deployment that was quickly followed by a second.  Then there was when we were half of a 4-man survival team in jungle warfare training, with the others an intel SSgt geek with little field craft experience and a Marine placed with me because he had some really serious mental health issues and awaiting discharge.  Unlike every other team, we ate well once ya’ll found how useful I was as bait for the habu snakes that wanted to attack me and I had to trust that one psych Marine with spiking them just a few feet from my legs.  No longer in the Navy and still beloved by our kids, 17 years have passed by and you, Jonathan, along with Christy and the boys are as much family as those are of blood, and in recent weeks you have been our mainstay through the retirement preps.  And here, at this chapel for the past two years, the blend of talents among the RPs has been nothing short of spectacular.  I would ask that all of those presently or in the past have served as RPs to please stand.

Then there are my colleagues in ministry, those who now or who have worn the cloth of our nation for being here today.  Chaplain Cain.  Kimberly, you and our RPs have done so much to take as much off of me the past month or so, freeing me as much as possible to prepare for retirement.  ENS Glenn Brooks, Chaplain Candidate, it has been a marvelous privilege to be a part of your journey.  Thank you for being here today, and I look forward to your commissioning as a Navy Chaplain!  A shout out to my chaplain school running mate, Phil Clark!  Chaplaincy really is an amazing opportunity to love people who might never have crossed the threshold of a place of worship.  Where else would we have an opportunity to readily befriend people across the religious spectrum, those of faith and no faith, the opportunity to reawaken faith in the injured and those who simply walked away from their faith, or to work in partnership with those of other faiths in order to care for our Sailors and Marines?  I am grateful for you, Rich, for your comments and welcoming me into the ranks of the retired.  We have shared an abiding friendship and faith, and you have been a safe, closed-mouth sounding board through some of the most personally and professionally challenging years of my career as a Navy Chaplain.  You have inspired me and I hope I have been as much help to our fellow chaplains as you have been to me.

Finally, my thanks to my fellow chaplains and friends who are a part of this program.  Chaplain Mason, Jeff – thank you for covering down on the MC position at the last.  Chaplain Rutan – Jim, thank you for your prayer.  Rabbi Litt – Gershon it has been a privilege to support your vision in caring for Sailors, I am honored you can do my benediction.  Senior Morgan – see, you finally weren’t the MC at a chapel event, thanks for piping me over the side.  My sideboys – Steve, Matt, Ryan, Cary and Jeremy – I am grateful for our years of friendship and your remarkable commitment as chaplains, and Chaplain Wiggins – all my prayers for what is your turn at being Command Chaplain for the world’s greatest naval base!  Knights of Columbus thank you for wanting to honor me today, it has been a joy to be of support to the Catholic community as much as our Protestant and Jewish communities here.  Captain McDaniel – I remain humbled and grateful for your support and friendship these past two years!

SO WHAT?

I end this where I started, naturally.  I cannot imagine having done any of this, without you, Julie, AJ and Ben.  I love each of you with my whole heart.  I am forever indebted to you for your sacrifices and support, but most of all your love.

Thank you.

PPT for WordPress

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