Story by Mary Junell, NCNG.
Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Beaver’s retirement ceremony on May 13th, 2022, was, like most military retirement ceremonies, intended to celebrate a long and distinguished career.
But, as family, friends, and colleagues filled the auditorium at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, it became clear that in addition to reminiscing on his years of service, the ceremony was a celebration of the community that supported him throughout his 34 years in Special Operations.
It was clear how close this group of people had become when one of Beaver’s former commanders, the master of ceremonies, introduced all but a few people in the room without looking at a list.
Soldiers in Special Forces often spend a large part of their careers on teams called Operational Detachment Alpha, also known as an ODA, a 12-man team that spends years training and deploying together.
“You spend a lot of time together. It’s a small unit, so you really get to know people,” Beaver said. “As a team, you have to work together. You spend a lot of time in remote places, and you do a lot of unique things, so you remember those things that you did together, shared sufferings, shared joys, shared accomplishments.”
In Beaver’s 34 years, he spent time serving in Hungary, Germany, Central America, Iraq, and Afghanistan and assignments that saw him working at the Pentagon. He credits the continually changing missions with what kept him serving all those years.
“In some ways, I feel like I won the lottery because there are so many times that it all could have come to a stop, and the Army has just kept offering me new missions and new opportunities and kept me interested, so I stayed around,” said Beaver, whose last assignment was serving as the senior noncommissioned officer of the North Carolina National Guard’s Special Operations Detachment – X. “I feel very fortunate to have made it this far and fortunate that I had a path that kept me engaged and challenged.”
He also said that he couldn’t have been as successful without his wife of 27 years, Linda Beaver, supporting him. This ceremony was as much a celebration of her as it was of him.
Linda, who at one point gave up her nursing career to ensure she could support her husband, said she also farmed a community around her of people that are now life-long friends.
“Being a Guard family is very unique. We don’t have that base support, so our support is in our state.” Linda said. “People would ask, ‘what are you going to do when your husband goes off and does this,’ and I’d say, ‘the same thing I do every day.’ You don’t have a choice, and you don’t have the understanding around you as you do on a base, so we created our own family, we created our own support group with friends, with other wives, and with other family members.”
Beaver said knowing his wife was taking care of everything at home made things a little easier for him when he had to be away.
“To know that the house, the home, our children are going to be ok means everything to be able to go off and do your job and be gone for a year, especially when you’re going to places like Afghanistan and Iraq,” Beaver said. “You really are mission-focused over there, but they were always in the forefront of my mind. At times it’s a struggle, but she was excellent at being the home commander.”
Linda mentioned she was glad to have him home now but that it will be different.
“Every year or so, he was going away for a year, and he’s not doing that anymore,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to start thinking about planning. I’m back into [nursing] and actually get to look forward to doing that and having his support.”
As the ceremony came to a close and Beaver was finishing his remarks, he said he was tasking the entire North Carolina National Guard Special Operation Forces enterprise to keep growing and to lead the young men and women forward.
“Keep building the teams and units,” he said. “Remind them that this is a calling, this is a way of life. It is a brotherhood that comes with responsibility and risk. It must not be taken for granted.”
This story by Sgt. 1st Class Mary Junell of the North Carolina National Guard was first published on May 13, 2022 by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. DVIDS publishes content in the public domain.
Photo: U.S. Army Col. Mike Ecker, commander of the North Carolina National Guard’s (NCNG) Special Operations Detachment – X (SOD-X), presents Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Beaver a retirement gift during a ceremony at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on May 13th, 2022. The ceremony celebrated Beaver’s retirement from the NCNG and his 34 years of service in Special Operations. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mary Junell)