It was the last salute he would ever have to snap off. As his right hand returned to his side, a twinkly smile spread across Col. Donald L. Schindel's face. It was done: 26 years, three months and 22 days in the U.S. Air Force. And now, on this sweltering Friday afternoon, at Bolling Air Force Base, before his family and friends, retirement.
As the band struck up the Air Force song, Don Schindel turned to leave the ceremonial lawn. The first person he passed in the VIP seats, right on the aisle, was his 19-year-old daughter, Kim. She has her father's thick eyebrows and his piercing brown eyes. And as Don Schindel went by, Kim was wearing that same twinkly smile.
"I knew what he was thinking," she said later. "He probably couldn't believe it was over." But for Kim Schindel, as well as for her father, a new chapter is only just beginning.
A year ago, Kim left her family's home in Fairfax for her freshman year at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Now, her father (a medical administrator) is weighing post-retirement job offers that may involve selling the house and moving -- perhaps to Baltimore, perhaps to rural Virginia, perhaps to who-knows-where.
First Kim left home, and now home might be leaving her. "If they move," she said, "it's going to be weird. Real weird."
In one sense, Kim Schindel is very used to picking up stakes. As the program at her father's retirement ceremony noted, the Schindels have been assigned to seven bases on three continents since Kim was born in the spring of 1971.
The clearest evidence of the nomadic Air Force life was sitting on the brown benches of the Bolling grandstand. Air Force friends from Nebraska, Texas, Germany and Illinois had journeyed to Washington for Don Schindel's retirement ceremony.
But if the Schindels sell the Fairfax house, they will cut the cords to the place where they have lived the longest. And they will say goodbye to the home where Don and Penny Schindel deliberately stayed (despite offers and pressures from the Air Force) so that Kim and her 21-year-old brother, Kevin, could start and finish high school in the same place.
More practically, the Fairfax address assures Kim Schindel of qualifying for in-state tuition at Virginia Tech, which saves her family more than $4,000 a year. If her parents sell the house and move out of Virginia, Kim will have to scramble.
She plans to live in an off-campus apartment this coming academic year, so a year from this fall, she could list that Blacksburg address as her year-round home and qualify for the in-state tuition break. In the meantime, if her parents move out of state, Kim would list her brother's Fairfax apartment as her permanent in-state home, even though she probably won't spend much time there.
Thus, six weeks before her sophomore year of college begins, Kim is catching her first whiff of adult rootlessness. She says she finds it "a little scary."
This is the ninth in a series of regular reports about Kim Schindel's life as a college student. Thanks to her kind cooperation, and that of her family, I plan to follow Kim's progress throughout her years at Virginia Tech. My aim is to provide an honest look at how a young person from the Washington area handles modern college life.
Although Don Schindel's retirement has dominated the family's agenda since Kim's freshman year ended in early May, Kim has been active on several other fronts.
She is taking a summer-school psychology course at George Mason University two nights a week. She has a $10-an-hour full-time job as a supervisor of a summer program for handicapped and disabled Fairfax County teenagers. She has even managed to sneak in a little weekend beach time at the Atlantic shore with her college buddies and her boyfriend, Rob Hoadley.
The surest measure of how hard Kim is working: June 29, the day of her father's retirement ceremony, was her first day off since May 7.
Kim's schedule and intensity level have been "worse than school," she says. There, she was deeply into bodybuilding, graphic design, sorority-rushing and aerobics, as well as academics, and she seldom slept as much as she should have.
"Sleep is really important lately," she said, although it's proving to be as elusive as ever. She must get up each weekday at 5:35 a.m. so she can begin fighting rush-hour traffic by 7. Still, Kim says her job has been worthwhile in every respect. The work is challenging, and the salary will keep her well above water when it comes time to pay for books, sorority fees and splurges.
However, Kim is well aware of how different life will be now that her father has left the service. "It was neat to watch him up there," she said as she munched on an hors d'oeuvres at a post-retirement party at the Bolling Officers' Club. "But I kept thinking what a big change this was going to be. For my Mom and Dad. And for me too."