Those were the keynote five words used by Col. James Alan Marshall, a Cleveland native who was honored May 16 in a formal retirement ceremony at Headquarters Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
In the company of his wife of 24 years, Kendra, and his two sons — Nolan, 9, and Joshua, 8 — Marshall offered his final salute to a proud branch of the U.S. military in which he left as director of safety for the USAF’s Air Combat Command.
“Since most retirement ceremonies focus almost exclusively on the retiree, I tried to make my part of the ceremony about my family,” Marshall told the Cleveland Daily Banner in a detailed email that recounted his years in the Air Force.
A man focused on family, patriotic values, and service to country and his fellow man, Marshall told of how former Bradley Central High School football coach Louie Alford — now chairman of the Bradley County Commission — inspired him in a way that affected the rest of his life.
“[At the retirement ceremony] I first took a few minutes and spoke directly to my sons, Nolan and Joshua,” he reflected. “I even told the audience to talk to each other or something while I spoke to my boys. I looked directly at them and told them that I wanted them to always do their best.”
He added, “I mentioned that I always remembered a saying from my high school football coach who said, ‘... don’t leave anything on the field.’ This was from head coach Louie Alford. I explained that meant you want to always try your very best and have nothing left at the end of the game so that you don’t look back and wish you had tried harder. When the game is done, you will have nothing left over on the field; you will be completely spent.”
Marshall directed his next comments at the retirement ceremony to Lt. Gen. Lori Robinson, Air Combat Command vice commander who officiated the event.
“[I told her] ... ma’am, you’ve seen the best I have to offer. It doesn’t get any better from me because I can honestly say I did my very best,” the longtime airman stressed.
Marshall then invited his sons to join him on stage where he presented them with “Children’s Medals” for “... exceptional service as Air Force children.”
Continuing his retirement focus on family, and not himself, Marshall addressed the woman whose own brand of heroism had always kept him standing like granite — his wife.
“During our time here in Virginia, [Kendra] had begun and completed her master’s degree,” Marshall explained. “She had also been diagnosed with, treated for and victorious over breast cancer. After her treatment (multiple surgeries, heavy-duty chemotherapy and a maximum-dose series of radiation treatments), and while she was still bald, she joined my sons in their karate program. Just two weeks ago she received her Black Belt along with my boys who received their Junior Black Belts.”
Of his soulmate, Marshall added, “Finally, she did all of this while home schooling our two boys even though I was away from home for much of the time.”
The retiring Air Force colonel then presented his wife with a “Spouse’s Medal” and roses, and his retirement came to an end with the whole family on stage.
“My final quote [to the audience],” Marshall said of the emotional ceremony, was, ‘If you are wondering what you have after 27 years in the Air Force, well, here it is.’” It was a direct reference to his family.
A man who gave it his best for what he believes is the greatest nation on Earth, Marshall ended a successful career that began with his 1987 commission from the United States Air Force Academy.
During the years that followed — and there were many — Marshall served as an Expeditionary Squadron Commander, Wing Chief of Safety, Flight Training Unit Director of Operations and Squadron Commander. In addition, he was an assistant professor of Mathematics at the United States Air Force Academy and has been a Squadron Safety Officer. Prior to serving as safety director for Air Combat Command, he served as the Chief of Flight Safety and senior editor of Headquarters ACC’s award-winning safety magazine, “Combat Edge.” Even while serving in the senior editor role, Marshall wore dual hats as deputy director of Safety.
As ACC safety director, Marshall was responsible for all mishap prevention programs supporting more than 1,000 aircraft, 22 Air Wings and more than 130,000 personnel. He led his directorate in winning both the Tubbs Memorial Award for the “Best Ground Safety” program in the Air Force, and the Secretary of the Air Force Award for Safety, the USAF’s highest safety award which is given to the best overall safety program in the military branch.
The awards didn’t stop there. The final one came during his retirement ceremony when he earned the Legion of Merit Medal for “... exceptionally meritorious service.”
One of his biggest fans, and best friends, is his sister, Jeannie Trew, a resident of Ocoee.
Trew recalled the differences between her and her brother. Whether it was like night and day, only they can attest.
“As children growing up in Cleveland, we were all about being busy doing what we did with our parents — a minister/artist and a teacher in the Bradley County School System,” Trew described in an email to the Banner. “Dad and I had plenty of fun out loud, lots of color and flash, while Mom and Alan quietly accomplished many wonderful things in their own humble, unassumable manner.”
The proud sister, who never tries to hide her pride in her family and brother, added, “We have always been such a good team together. Alan should be cloned as the perfect brother. I am so proud of him.”
Trew suggested the world is a better place because of men like Col. James Alan Marshall.
“If there needed to be someone in charge to make the right decisions in our world today, I would want it to be my brother,” she declared. “In his 27 years of duty and leadership in the military, and with his wife and boys, he has done so already.”
A talented pilot who flew a variety of aircraft for the Air Force — which includes serving as a U-2 Reconnaissance pilot — Marshall eventually commanded the U-2 combat flying squadron that supported all U-2 combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was even selected as the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Pilot of the Year and the No. 1 of 12 combat squadron commanders by his wing commander.
A man whose unblemished military career included the sparkle of bright medals, the admiration of his peers and the appreciation of commanders, Marshall seemingly lived victory every day. But his years also included heartbreak with the loss of a good friend and fellow U-2 pilot, Maj. Duane Dively.
The highly decorated pilot, still facing a full life and military career, died in a U-2 mission crash eight years ago that was later determined the result of mechanical failure. Marshall recounts the tragic episode in an article originally published in the Summer 2014 edition of “Combat Edge,” and which is being reprinted in today’s Memorial Day edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Marshall titled the gripping account, “The Glove.” The headline is based on Marshall’s loan of one of his pilot gloves to Dively because the latter’s was found to be defective. It was the mission from which Dively would never return.
Of his reflections on the meaning of Memorial Day, Marshall told the Banner his published tribute to Dively speaks to the heroism of all American soldiers who have died while in service to their country.
“I don’t think I can say it any better than I did in the ‘Glove’ article,” Marshall said Friday. “There has hardly been a day since 22 June 2006, that I haven’t thought about Maj. Duane Dively. I imagine almost every veteran has the thought of someone like Duane in the back of their mind constantly. It never really ever goes way.”
In the article, Marshall points to the importance of a detailed safety program and he reflects on the loss of a genuine friend.
Marshall’s inspiring account closes, “[Duane’s] loss was a devastating blow to the U-2 program, just as the loss of every Airman is a blow to their squadron, base and the Air Force. That is why I am a true believer in safety. That is why I pull out my old U-2 glove every year around Memorial Day. It reminds me of an old friend. It reminds me of how important it is to identify the cause of every mishap and to implement corrective actions in every case to prevent reoccurrence.”
“The ‘glove,’” Marshall adds, “is always kept near to remind me.”
(About Col. James Alan Marshall: He is the son of a local pastor, the Rev. James I. Marshall, and the late June E. Marshall who was a Bradley County Schools system elementary teacher. A Bradley Central High School alumnus, Marshall competed for the Bears in football and baseball. As a senior starter, his baseball team finished second in the state and his football squad was the regional champion. He graduated from Cleveland State Community College and was and Honors graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He later earned a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the University of Washington, a master’s degree in aeronautical sciences from Embry-Riddle University, and a Ph.D. in organizational leadership from Regent University.)