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Fort Ritchie staff saluted

September 19, 1998

Ft. Richie staffBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT/ staff photographer




FORT RITCHIE - They all came together for one last time Friday, a work force that once numbered 2,000 people now down to less than 200.

There weren't even enough people to fill half of the Army post's auditorium.

For the last three years, Fort Ritchie employees have been focused on one thing - closing the post at the end of this month.

On Friday, the spotlight was focused on the people.

"More than the place, the people, they have been the beautiful part," said Lt. Col. Bill Robertson, the post chaplain.

All were recognized for their service.

There was 17-year employee Shirley Dulin, who worked in the office that helped other people find new jobs but who has yet to find her own.

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"The closer we get to it, it gets sad. You're all going in different directions," said Dulin, 48, of Frederick, Md., who wore a T-shirt that said "Out the Gate in '98."

There was Laura Cole, a housing director who was lucky enough to keep the same job at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

"We've had like a three-year pink slip. It's sad, but it's time to put some closure to it," she said.

There was LaVonne Ehrhart, 49, who has held three jobs in two years at Fort Ritchie and who is still looking for a government job that won't take her too far away from her home in Greencastle, Pa.

Ehrhart, who has five years before she is eligible for retirement, said Friday she feels upset and robbed.

"You work for the government for 15 years you think you have job security. The people who don't have jobs, truthfully, there's a lot of stress," she said.

But Ehrhart is still optimistic that she'll find something.

"People are getting picked up every day," she said.

Only a handful of people are going to be left in limbo when the post closes its gates Sept. 30, said spokesman Steve Blizzard, who himself is taking early retirement at the age of 49 and moving to South Carolina.

Closing the post has been stressful for employees. It was a large task undertaken at a time when many were uncertain about their own future, he said.

Once Fort Ritchie was slated for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 1995, offices that were closing didn't get new computers and had to make do with outdated versions of software, he said.

In the last few weeks, employees have been turning over their equipment and furniture. On the last day, Blizzard said all that will be left in his office will be a telephone.

At Friday's ceremony, everyone was called up on stage to get awards from and shake hands with Lt. Col. Frank Clepper, who has been the post commander for 16 months.

Although it took more than an hour, the crowd never seemed to lose its enthusiasm as they clapped for each of their coworkers.

Not standing on ceremony, some employees used the opportunity to good-naturedly heckle their friends.

A few people got special honors.

Edward T. Shimanski got the second-highest honor a civilian can receive, the "meritorious civilian service award," for being executive assistant to the commander.

"It's a bittersweet moment for most of us," said Shimanski of Harrisburg, Pa., who is retiring after 35 years with the government.

Shimanski said he wasn't ready to retire and has only started feeling comfortable with the idea a month ago.

The base closing was more difficult for the civilians than the military employees at Fort Ritchie who are used to getting transferred, said Sgt. Kenneth Wilson, 38.

Wilson will go to Fort Stewart, Ga., to finish out the last seven months of his Army career.

Clepper, the commander, said employees can be proud of the way the closure was performed.

"Fort Ritchie stands out as an example of how you can do it right," he said.

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