Once a PAO, Always a PAO

If you asked me why I joined the Army Public Affairs Association – after all, I’m fully retired - I would tell you that PAOs, old and new, are my peeps.  I like hanging out with creative types, keeping in touch with my old colleagues and meeting the folks now manning the ramparts.  Together, we share an unbroken line that fades into history and each of us has been in the thick of that somewhere along the way.

Yogi Berra’s sad passing last week reminded me I was still acting like a PAO, retired or not.  Telling stories never gets old.  Maybe that’s another reason for hanging around. One of Yogi’s famous quotes inspired my blog where I write about the Appalachian Trail: “A FORK IN THE ROAD”.

It seems Yogi told his pal Joe Garagiola how to get to his house.  Garagiola is a former major league baseball player, “Today Show” co-host and sportscaster.

“When you get to the fork in the road, take it,” Yogi explained.

Apparently, either direction ultimately led to Yogi’s place.

And that is pretty much what happened to me.

When I quit working for good in 2012, I was glad to know it was my time to go.

No one wants to be a fossil hanging on past the “sell-by date.”  Plus, retirement is a lot like death and taxes: It is very unusual to successfully escape and evade the inevitable. Anyhow, I’d been in the media relations racket almost continuously since I was a first lieutenant at Fort Carson, Colorado in 1971.  That stressful track continued on in industry, higher education and the federal government following 28 years in uniform.  

Work had become boring and it was time for a change. But retirement challenges are hard to appreciate until you are actually in it.  In retirement, you need a direction because the ‘honey do’ list quickly exhausts itself.  About a month before my last day on the job, I was making lists and realized thru-hiking the 2,200 mile AT had been rusting at the bottom of my bucket list since the early ‘70s. 

“Six months in the woods.  What a way to figure out what I wanted to do next,” I thought.  “I’m there!” Along the way I fell in love with the Appalachian Trail. Although it enjoys excellent name recognition – you sound like an expert by calling it the AT – few people understand what it really is or what it takes to keep this 90-year-old national treasure alive.

I’d found my calling – a niche to fill.

My blog chronicles my hopes and doubts as I prepared, followed by what happened as this five-million-step-journey unfolded as I marched across 14 states.  Armchair hikers can ride along from the beginning in the backyard of the Army Ranger School in north Georgia to its termination atop Mount Katahdin in central Maine.

Since then, I’ve used my blog and social media to help educate the hiking world about what happens to the AT behind the scenes.  In that sense, I’m still acting like the PAO I always was and always will be, at least until like Yogi, I reach my final “fork in the road.”

Oh, and for those of you who aren’t thinking ahead or are in denial, Yogi’s wisdom applies to that too.  “It gets late early out there.” 

Happy trails!

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Jim Fetig

Jim is a longtime member of our Army public affairs family. He entered the Army as a private and retired as a colonel. We appreciate his words of wisdom.