As a military dependent for more than 35 years, I have been to many changes of command, most of them for my dad. Earlier this month, I attended one for my husband, Dustin.
A change of command is the Navy’s answer to that awkward moment when one authority is leaving and a new one is stepping in. It’s the passing of a baton, an outward, formal marker for something that can’t really be physically contained and transferred. (Parents and baby sitters would do well to have their own minichange of command ceremony at the beginning of each baby-sitting session.)
Dustin’s change of command came after three years as commander of Navy Operational Support Center Bangor, Maine, where he first was in charge of a portion of Maine’s naval reserves, and then, after Naval Air Station Brunswick closed, responsible for Maine’s entire population of Navy reservists. Dustin’s command also was responsible for all Navy funeral honors in the state of Maine.
From the moment he took command, Dustin was keenly aware of his duty to the community, the reservists — many of them being sent individually for deployments all over the world — and the funerals in the region.
That’s the kind of man he is.
Three years later, he is wiser — and perhaps grayer at the temples — but more importantly, he is in tune with the needs and sacrifices of reservists and their families.
As I helped the boys with their ties and dress shirts the morning of the ceremony, I told them how proud I was of their dad. This was hard for them to hear; the change of command, after all, marked the official end to Dustin’s job here in Maine and the beginning of his yearlong deployment overseas. When I was a kid, I remember feeling like my boys — proud of my dad, excited for the ceremony, but ultimately, anxious and sad about one more change in our lives.
While I’ve anticipated these changes for the last six months, Dustin didn’t have time to. He was more concerned with making sure the transfer of authority was as seamless as possible for his sailors and staff.
That’s the kind of leader he is.
The ceremony opened with patriotic songs played by the 195th Maine Army band and the Parade of Colors by University of Maine’s Navy ROTC unit. Ford’s fifth-grade teacher, Joe Bennett, sang the national anthem. After the invocation, our attention was directed toward the stage. I began thinking about the day Dustin told me the Navy was transferring him from Pensacola, Fla., where he was a flight instructor, to Bangor, Maine.
“What’s in Bangor, Maine, for a Navy pilot?” I asked.
Incidentally, my then new readers in Bangor wanted to know the same thing. Changes of command, flyovers, men in Navy uniforms stopping at the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk — these things are commonplace where I grew up in Virginia Beach, Va. Today in New England, especially after the closing of NAS Brunswick, there is a Navy vacuum in the region. Besides his new mission as commanding officer and all that that entailed, Dustin made a Navy presence in our new hometown one of his priorities.
That’s the kind of citizen he is.
Dustin accomplished this in part by creating a new partnership between Bangor Public Schools and Navy Operational Support Center Bangor. He and his staff went into schools, as part of Campaign Drug Free, and talked to students about the positive goals in their lives. They also got involved with Habitat for Humanity, local parades and ceremonies, and, of course, they continued their solemn duty to regional funerals with professionalism and honor.
Yet, after the change of command, Dustin didn’t have time to think about what I knew was important work he and the NOSC had done in our area. As the sideboys saluted Dustin out of the ceremony, I knew his mind was already on the new tasks ahead: getting our family ready for the deployment and preparing himself for his new mission.
That’s the kind of officer he is.
A week later, I asked Dustin if it was beginning to seem real that he would soon leave me and the kids. I wondered if leaving our youngest, Lindell, would be hardest of all. A year is a long time. Especially for a toddler. When Dustin comes back, Lindell will have outgrown his footed pajamas. He won’t call Rite Aid “Fridays.” He won’t mispronounce R’s like L’s (“Pleston”). He will already know the whole alphabet. He might even be reading.
Selfishly, I couldn’t imagine missing those things.
But Dustin said, “My absence will impact Lindell most of all. That’s what worries me. He won’t understand. In three weeks he’ll wonder when I’m coming back. A year will seem like forever. And it will be hard for him.”
Always thinking of others and their feelings before himself.
That’s the kind of father Dustin is.
Through the years in this column, I probably haven’t given you an adequate description of Dustin. I’m usually not at a loss for words, especially when written. Yet, when it comes to explaining Dustin, I find it difficult to capture his essence.
“You just have to know him,” is what I say.
So when Rear Adm. Robin Braun, who gave the opening remarks at the change of command, described him as having a “winsome” personality, my eyes brightened. That’s the word I’ve been searching for all these years.
Winsome. Affable. Charming. Hardworking. Careful. Conscientious. Dedicated. Thoughtful. Warm. Funny.
That’s the kind of person Dustin is.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.