"You're not taking a break, Navy!" Rhode Island Sen. and Army veteran Jack Reed shouted as his colleague Mark Kirk climbed the Capitol steps for the first time Thursday since suffering a massive stroke.
But while the Highland Park Republican is actively resuming his duties in the upper chamber, staff members say that Kirk plans to retire from service in the Naval Reserve, ending a 23-year military career.
"As he returns to the Senate, Senator Kirk plans to wind down his military career and retire," his spokesman, Lance Trover, said in an email to the Daily Herald Friday.
Kirk, 53, joined the Naval Reserve in 1989 as a direct commission officer in intelligence. Recalled to active duty in 1999, he participated in Operation Allied Force, in 2000 Operation Northern Watch in Iraq, as well as other operational deployments. Even after his election to the Senate in November 2010, Kirk continued to work one weekend a month in the Pentagon.
Kirk served in the same squadron as Andy Mueller, a now retired Navy veteran who lives in northern Virginia, when, Mueller recalled, the military was "kicking Slobodan Milosevic and his forces out of Kosovo."
Mueller called Kirk the "best intel officer I ever had," noting Kirk's experience working as legal counsel on the House Foreign Relations Committee gave him invaluable experience.
The ischemic stroke Kirk suffered on Jan. 21, 2012, has left him partially paralyzed on his left side. He is blind in one quadrant of his left eye and walks with the aid of a four-pronged cane.
"I'm sorry to see this be the end of his military career, certainly," Mueller said. "I think this is going to be a real loss for the Navy."
To retire, Mueller said, a member of the Navy Reserve must formally submit a letter of resignation to the Navy, and if he or she has the requisite years of service, the request will then be granted.
The senator's return to work and his stair climb were the completion of a goal he first set for himself while still an inpatient at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. A number of Kirk's former squadron mates were present to mark the event.