MANCHESTER - Scott Brown has many memories from his 35 years in the National Guard as he prepares for his retirement ceremony at the Pentagon on Tuesday, including his experience as an embedded U.S. senator dining with soldiers in Afghanistan.
In 2011, while a Massachusetts senator, Lt. Col. Brown was deployed at his request to Afghanistan in his role as deputy counsel to the chief lawyer for the National Guard Bureau, working on problems with contractors, particularly fraud, waste and abuse.
At one point during the two-week training stint at a military base near Kandahar, Brown skipped the officers' dining area, got into the chow line and joined a group of enlisted men. "There I was in full uniform, carrying a firearm, a combat pack on my back," he recalls. "I was a senator, but I was also a soldier on duty."
Brown recalls making some small talk, then asking the soldiers if they ever have the opportunity to talk to the VIPs and politicians who visit from Washington.
"They said, 'Nah. That's just a dog and pony show. We don't really get a chance to talk to them, and if we do, we're told not to say anything bad.'?"
Brown asked what they would say if given the chance. What he heard is what you might expect: "The food is terrible. We need to get more access to our families - more time to write home, get online, have a break to get on the phone."
When Brown said he might be able to help, the soldiers replied, "No disrespect sir, but you are just a lieutenant colonel." To their disbelief, he revealed himself as a U.S. senator and had to show his ID to prove it, winning a bet that got his breakfast delivered the next day
Now a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, Brown says the kind of camaraderie he experienced on that Afghanistan visit and throughout his military career is what he will miss the most once he hangs up the uniform for good after the May 13 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Brown, who was promoted to colonel in 2012, will be surrounded by family and friends as Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presides over the retirement ceremony. Brown will receive the Legion of Merit medal.
In an interview at his campaign headquarters in Manchester, the 54-year-old Brown sounded like a guardsman who'd like to stay on the job he started as a 19-year-old college student, but having served 30 years as an officer and five in the enlisted ranks, he faces mandatory retirement.
"I'm very excited about it, but at the same time a little melancholy as well," he said. "I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life and have the most knowledge I've had on these issues, but it's time for a new round of hard-chargers to come in and do it."
Brown says he was drawn to National Guard duty after the Blizzard of '78, when he witnessed their efforts to save stranded motorists and restore normalcy in the days that followed the deadly storm.
"It was a Herculean effort," he said, "and I said to myself, 'Man, I want to be just like them.'?"
At a Thanksgiving football game later that year, he ran into a longtime family friend who was at the time an officer in the 101st Engineer Battalion out of Reading, Mass. "The next thing I know, I'm down at the 101st, signed, sealed, delivered and off to basic training," he said.
As a sophomore at Tufts University, he entered the military as a private first class and platoon leader. According to Brown, that was the beginning of a teamwork and leadership experience that shaped his life for the next three decades.
Over the years, he obtained his law degree, advanced through the ranks, and for the past 15 years, has served as an attorney in the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps.
Brown talks about the "special unwritten bond" among servicemen and women. Unless you've been there, it's hard to understand, he said.
"The thing that's kept me in (the National Guard) for the past 35 years has been the camaraderie and the people," he said. "They are just amazing people who are there on a volunteer basis, giving up their weekends, their summers, sometimes going away for a year or two, sometimes giving up their lives for their country. They are incredibly talented and incredibly dedicated. I'll miss that a lot."