Dozens lined up to say thank you and goodbye to Major General Frank Vavala, who’s retiring after 50 years of service in the Delaware National Guard, 18 of those years as its adjutant general.
Vavala hosted a day-long open house at the Joseph R. “Beau” Biden National Guard/Reserve Center in New Castle, to celebrate his career and retirement, effective today, with all of the people who helped him along the way.
“These men and women are the reason that I became adjutant general. I stood on their shoulders, it’s not about me, it’s all about them, so it’s wonderful to be in the presence of all my troops, both Army and Air, and all of our retirees and all those that mean so much to the veterans’ community here in Delaware. So, what a wonderful day,” Vavala said.
Vavala shook hands, exchanged hugs and was later presented with a portrait of himself, painted by local artist Heidi Scheing. The portrait will be hung in one of the Guard’s facilities, but Vavala joked the portrait should be placed in a latrine at the Delaware National Guard’s Bethany Beach training site, with a sign on the door that reads, “We always knew he was full of it.”
Vavala said he hopes he made a difference and that he left the Guard better than he found it. Many at Tuesday’s sendoff said mission accomplished.
“He’s always an inspiration, a tremendous leader, a tremendous spokesperson for the Guard and all the patriots who serve,” said Dave Skocik, co-founder of the Delaware Veterans Coalition. Skocik has known Vavala since 1998, when he joined the Delaware Army National Guard. “He’s the guy who’s always looked out for the troops. He set up a fund called DNGREAF, Delaware National Guard and Reserve emergency assistance fund, to help those veterans who end up in a financial crisis.”
Paul Davis is the president of the Delaware chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. Davis called Vavala his brother and said the outgoing general has been so supportive of the state’s Vietnam veterans.
“He’s a man that you can actually sit down and talk to, he loves his veterans and we love him. And I’m really going to miss him and I know he’ll be in Delaware, so we’re going to call on him now and then to help support on different programs that veterans are working for,” Davis said.
“He takes care of the families that are left behind, makes sure they get everything they need. He watches out for his men constantly. I just never seen a guy work so close and be so tight with his employees, you might say,” said Carleton Carey, former mayor of Dover.
Major General Carol Timmons will succeed Vavala as adjutant general. The former commander of the Delaware Air National Guard said she has big shoes to fill.
“General Vavala’s been really a great leader for the National Guard, but I, as one of his commanders for five years, I’ve learned from him, he’s mentored me, so as I’ve told the staff this morning, there aren’t going to be a lot of major changes,” Timmons said. “We’re going to continue to provide troops to the state when needed, and then of course for our federal mission overseas. So we’re just going to continue to train and be ready for the call.”
Vavala doesn’t know yet what he’s going to do when he “grows up,” except that he plans to sit back for a while and measure what he’ll do next. He was certain, however, that he will do some volunteer work to give back to the state and community.