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Gabrielle Giffords returns to Washington for Mark Kelly’s retirement

Captain Mark Kelly hugs his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, after receiving the Legion of Merit at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, on Thursday. (David Lienemann/The White House via Reuters)

Gabrielle Giffords returned to Washington for only the second time since her shooting Thursday, for her astronaut husband Mark Kelly’s formal retirement from the Navy.

A VIP crowd turned out for the ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, among them Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Vice-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mark E. Ferguson; Joe Biden presided.

More hoopla than the average retiring captain gets. But “Mark’s been an incredible leader for us,” said NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, according to the pool report. Biden saluted Kelly and the Arizona congresswoman both for “sheer courage, selflessness and dedication.”

Giffords did not speak, but smiled to the room. She wore glasses and running shoes and a brace on her right hand. Her hair, though still short, was a little longer than when she last came to D.C., for her debt ceiling vote in August. She pinned a Distinguished Flying Cross medal on Kelly’s jacket without assistance. (He also received a Legion of Merit award at the ceremony.) The two are set to release a joint memoir next month, and he plans to go on the public speaking circuit. Giffords has not yet said whether she will seek reelection next year.

Good spirits seemed to abound. The veep did not hesitate to use his favorite old banter — the “no dating ’til 30!” one — with Kelly’s teenage daughters. “Mark, I hope to hell you have big guard dogs,” Biden said.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at her husband’s retirement ceremony on Thursday. (David Lienemann/The White House/Reuiters)

Read earlier: Astronaut Mark Kelly: Arizona’s next senator?, 6/22/01

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