Several weeks ago during my trip to Britain, I was given a tour of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. A very unique home to over 300 Army veterans called Chelsea Pensioners.
Several of these men have served their country in World War II, Korea, Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland. Established by King Charles II in 1681, this home provides the veterans with a sense of comradeship, great facilities and health care for those who would otherwise be alone.
Many of the Pensioners are still very active within the community and the regiments in which they served.
This visit caused me to wonder about our very own retirement home for Soldiers. For more than 30 years, I have had the 50 cents taken out of my end-of-month pay, but had no understanding as to where that money went.
Later, I discovered that all fines and forfeitures from United States Code of Military Justice actions support the home as well.
I found that the United States Soldiers’ Homes were authorized by Congress in 1851, preceded by the U.S. Naval Home that opened in 1834. As you can see, this organization has a very long and rich history with our Army and taking care of Soldiers.
In 1990, Congress created the Armed Forces Retirement Home, an independent federal agency that combined the Naval Home and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., into one agency. The two homes are funded by a trust fund and are open to retirees and veterans of all the services, who meet the eligibility criteria established by Congress.
I reached out to Ron Kartz, the chief of resident services at the Armed Forces Retirement Home – Washington, for a tour of the facilities.
The Washington campus sits on over 270 acres and is also home to the President’s summer cottage that served four commanders in chief.
In that very cottage, President Abraham Lincoln worked on the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862.
You cannot help but be impressed as you enter through the gates and see the sprawling and well-kept grounds.
You cannot help to be impressed by the remarkable architecture, the 9-hole golf course, the small fishing lake and the softball field. That’s correct — a softball field for their monthly games, which goes to show that Soldiers are competitive by nature, regardless of age.
Inside the facilities, our great veterans also receive first-class care led by a group of professionals and volunteers. Everything from gyms, swimming pools, bowling alleys, wood shops, computer labs and tours around D.C. help keep the more than 400 veterans active and engaged, while honoring their service to our country.
I also found a common trait amongst us Soldiers is concern over meals and mail – this holds true regardless if you are a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom or World War II.
So hopefully, this post has made you think about our veterans — not only in D.C., but around the country. You don’t have to be the TRADOC command sergeant major to check on our Soldiers.
I think you’ll be enriched by stopping by and speaking with one or two of our veterans, and you may even learn something about our Army.
For me, I had a great experience talking to Private 1st Class Rich Baker, a World War II D-Day veteran of the 4th Infantry Division. Of course, the visit also provided me the opportunity to hear an oral history of our Army from someone who experienced D-Day. And, those opportunities are dwindling the further we move away from that date in history.
He shared stories of the experiences and bravery of his fellow Soldiers, and I was taken back by how much pride he still had for his Army and the 4th Infantry Division — over 70 years after he was drafted.
He made sure he showed me his division ring as well. I cannot think of a better example of a Soldier for Life!
I am already looking forward to going back to the campus to catch a ball game and speak more to the veterans.
For more information on the Armed Forces Retirement Homes, go to www.afrh.gov or check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AFRH.gov.
— CSM D
Photo credit: Retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Sterling R. Cale, a 90-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, takes a moment in the shrine room of the USS Arizona Memorial at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, May 27, 2012, during a ceremony to honor the 1,177 service members who lost their lives during the attack on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941. (Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth)