Making the Transition
by Tom Reed
For 34 years, Admiral Archie Clemins has been giving orders and instruction, and watched some of the U.S. Navy's finest training others. But as a student on a NOLS winter skiing course in 1999, Clemins witnessed the teaching of "two of the finest instructors I've ever seen."
Clemins notes that the instructors broke trail all day long and had "just tremendous endurance. When they were teaching, they knew the limits of the students and knew how and when to step in."
The instructors on that 25 and over winter ski course, Greg Wolfgang and Iris Saxer, led the students through a winter landscape for two weeks, teaching such things as avalanche safety, skiing, winter ecology, and thermal regulation in a cold environment.
Clemins recently retired as commander of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet. As such, he was the leader of approximately 246,649 people including civilians, Naval Reservists, Marines and Navy personnel. He also was ultimately responsible for 186 ships, including such multi-billion dollar equipment as four nuclear aircraft carriers, 25 nuclear attack submarines, 13 cruisers, 16 guided missile frigates, 11 destroyers, thousands of aircraft, and much more.
At 56 and after more than three decades in the military, Clemins and his wife, Marylin, 53, decided they needed to have a complete transition from that world to a civilian one, remembers Archie. A NOLS course sounded like just the thing. "It was Marylin's idea and it was a great one," says Archie.
Their son had attended college in Colorado and had heard of NOLS. After investigating the possibilities and the wide range of NOLS courses available, the Cleminses chose the winter ski course option. The reasons were twofold. First, the couple wanted some time to reflect and think in the wilderness and to start their move into retirement. Secondly, they wanted to be in the West.
Thus, the NOLS course helped bridge the gap on a physical move as well, with the couple settling in Boise, Idaho, after years of moving around with the Navy. "Boise is not a military town and it's nice to live where you are relatively anonymous.
"I was concerned about the physical challenge of the course," says Clemins, who lifted weights to prepare for two weeks of living at high elevation in the snow-cloaked mountains of Idaho. "It was everything that I hoped it would be."
Archie reflects that it took "us longer than I thought it would to learn the things we needed to," but "the time passed really quickly."
Another thing that struck Archie was the fact that it was quite easy to stay warm, even in the winter. "The cold was just not an issue. You didn't get cold if you did the layers right."
Archie mentions other rewards to his and Marylin's time spent in the mountains. "Out there you really realize that being organized has great rewards," says Archie. "I also liked the group interactions and the fact that we were carrying everything for the expedition with us. There were some people who had never done anything like that who did their part. That was great to see."
Where Admiral Clemins goes in his post-Navy career is yet to be seen. He has started a science and technology consulting business called Caribou Technology, Inc., and he and Marylin are settling into the slower-paced life of Boise after years in fast-moving Washington, D.C. Another adventure such as NOLS is a sure option, though. "We want to do something like this every six months. It was really nice to clear my head and realize that I could do anything anybody else on the course could".