The recent commander of the “Center Of The Aerospace Test Universe” recalled an interaction with an Army veteran leaving a hardware facility on his last day of active duty, capping more than 30 years of service.
Brig. Gen. Matthew W. Higer’s story was heading somewhere, as is often the case. He recalled his adolescent children vending popcorn outside the hardware store to generate money for Scouts USA.
“I was recently in civilian attire outside Loew’s (hardware) with my one of my two favorite Scouts,” Higer told me. “There was an Army veteran, loud and proud, who purchased himself a donation with a large helping of popcorn on the side.”
The soon-to-retire general commander addressed a veteran in the parking lot, as is his usual. “I come to attention and say ‘Sir’, or ‘M’aam, thank you for your service.'”
During his retirement ceremony at Club Muroc on December 8, 2023, Higer questioned the hundred or so well-wishers in attendance, “What do you think the Army veteran’s answer was?”
He then requested every veteran in attendance to stand and be recognized, saving the greatest part of the narrative for last. A number of men and women of all ages and military eras stood.
All of the active-duty troops, friends, relatives, and dignitaries in the room applauded.
Higer then quoted Department of Veterans Affairs data indicating that the United States currently has approximately 18.2 million veterans. Higer said that seemed like a lot of people, but then he added the telling statistic.
“That turns out to be a scant 5.4 percent who have ever worn the uniform of all branches of service, all ranks.” “That number is rapidly declining,” he noted.
That ratio is expected to fall to 4.8 percent within a few years, according to Higer.
“We are trending toward a nation where fewer than one-in-30 of us will have ever worn the uniform,” he told reporters.
To make matters worse, the American military family has a tendency to cling to its own. He invited attendees to raise their hands if they had a kid, parent, or sibling who served, and many did. Tradition and bonding together help the American military family renew its ranks.
“By contrast, from the years 1940 to 1945, 45 percent of American men had spent time in uniform,” he went on to say.
“I challenge all of you to contemplate deeply about a time that will come when a wide swath of Americans will rarely encounter a veteran.”
The retiring general encouraged soldiers to be “loud and proud like that Army veteran,” telling the story of what it means to serve America.
As a result, Higer did not devote time in his concluding remarks to foreign national security concerns posed by China, Russia, or others acting as adversaries to American interests, “as worthy as those subjects are of our attention as individuals, and as a nation.”
He will speak of it when the time comes, but as the sun sets on his active duty career, he wanted to thank all the officers who helped shape his years in uniform. First and foremost, he wanted to thank his non-commissioned officers, the NCOs who completed the task and assisted him in achieving his command aims.
Before taking command of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards, Higer had a full and diversified career that included service as a test pilot, leader at the Test Pilot School, and combat flights on Operation Southern Watch.
In closing, he invited all active-duty members, whether regular, National Guard, or Reserves, to stand and be recognized.
“Thank you for your willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice, and please thank your families as well.” “I hope none of your families ever have a Gold Star flag,” he remarked, referring to the flag awarded to families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty.
In addition to complimenting the many, he singled out the soloist who performed the National Anthem and the Blue Eagles Honor Guard, members of which presented the colors.
“I adore the Blue Eagles Honor Guard. Their primary mission is to pay final tribute to our comrades at graveside.”
Col. Douglas Wickert, Higer’s successor as commander of the 412th Test Wing, attended the ceremony. Brig. Gen. Ret. John “Dragon” Teichert, Higher’s predecessor. Maj. Gen. Evan C. Dertien, Commander of the Air Force Test Center, was present as a senior officer.
Higer advised contributions to two nonprofits that carry the Air Force torch: the Aces and Eights Foundation, which is researching cancer in air crew at https://www.acesand8s.org/, and the Air Force Foundation. In addition, the Flight Test Museum Foundation, https://flighttestmuseum.org/, is soliciting funding to finish the second phase of the Air Force Flight Test Museum outside the Edwards West Gate.
“We do not know why, but we do know that it is a fact that air crew develops cancer at higher rates than the general public,” he went on to say. “I urge all of you to take every opportunity to get cancer screenings.”
As a survivor who has “faced my own mortality,” he believes that early detection “will save your life, and preserve as much of your lifestyle as possible.”
When the museum is finished, he says it will not only inspire future service but will also be a national hub for STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math instruction.
Higer commended his wife, Leslie, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, for her service and unwavering support, as well as his children.
After everyone had expressed their gratitude, Higer returned to the story of the “loud and proud Army vet” who bought popcorn from the teenage Scouts, the young people who are Higer’s pride and delight.
The general stated that he is not looking for new jobs, but that they will compete for the time he wishes to dedicate to his family. When he suggested golf with a grandmother, his son promptly responded, “Let’s go camping.”
“He stopped and looked at me,” Higer said after thanking the Army veteran for his service. He stood up and said, really, ‘It was an honor.'”
Preparing to complete his last day of more than 30 years in service, he said, “I am at peace.”
In conclusion, the retiring general stated, “It was a honor.”
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