If the name Fran Hostetler sounds familiar, it
should. If it doesn’t, you will certainly recognize her face. Fran, as so many
across the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Detrick call her, is one of those people who
once you meet, you won’t soon forget. After 35 years of service to this country
in active-duty and civilian roles, Fran is now looking forward to the next
phase of her life: retirement.
Born and raised in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the town where Flight 93 fell from the sky on 9/11, Fran attended Shanksville Stoney Creek High School, the second smallest high school in the state. Her 1963 class included only 62 other students. After high school she remained in Pennsylvania for a number of years to help the family and to tend to her younger siblings.
Fran then entered the military at the age of 32 and was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. There she was able to excel, recognized for her efforts and leadership by being named Soldier of the Year. As a result of this award she was given a 10-day all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii.
“It was absolutely beautiful,” said Hostetler. “We ate a lot of spam and visited several pineapple plantations. We just sucked in the culture and really enjoyed ourselves. It is beautiful there.”
Eventually landing at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in the late ‘80s, she entered the most challenging part of her career, drill sergeant school.
“The physical part was no problem. It was all mental. There were 40 in my class and I was the only female,” said Hostetler. “If one failed, the entire class failed and every one of those guys did nothing but support me. Finishing was one of my greatest achievements.”
Throughout her entire federal career, Fran says she considers herself blessed to have the gift of gab and the ability to make everyone feel special.
“I always root for the underdog,” said Hostetler.
Several times throughout this interview, Fran welled up with tears; sharing stories about those people over the years who impacted her the most.
“People say ‘thank you’ all the time,” said Hostetler. “Recently, while at the IBExpress store on post, one of the girls just hugged me and said ‘thank you.’ It’s just me. I talk to everyone and what you see is what you get.”
Hostetler continued, “I’ve learned through the years that a simple conversation sometimes speaks volumes to people. Maybe I was the only one who said ‘hello’ to them each day. It’s amazing how something so small has the potential to make someone feel so good.”
Fran told story after story throughout the interview; noting one special memory in particular as a drill instructor.
During her time as a drill instructor, in charge of two young men from Baltimore, Hostetler was faced with the difficult task of motivating two individuals who clearly did not want to be there. When asked “why are you here?” their response was “the judge said it’s here or jail, so we picked here.” Needless to say, that response made her realize what she had to do. From that moment on, she took her role, her heart and her ability to communicate very seriously for the rest of her career.
“To say that I helped someone, or maybe saved a life by teaching correct procedures in the field, or even just made someone smile; that’s what life is about. That’s all I really ever want to do,” said Hostetler.
In 1990, her military career ended and she began her journey here at Fort Detrick as a cook. Since she first set foot on Frederick County soil, she has worn several hats in Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation.
“She is so good with every customer,” said Roger Knepper, chief of the Nonappropriated Funds Support Management Division at FMWR. “She somehow manages to know a personal tidbit of everyone’s life. She knows about their spouses, kids, family life along with how they like their tea. It is remarkable. Fran is really going to be missed.”
“Frederick is so special,” said Hostetler, and “I am constantly hearing how people come here to serve and decide to stay after retirement. Frederick just has that pull and the workforce here is so dedicated.”
She added, “This is not like a big installation. Here, you can get to know anyone. Here, we see each other all the time and we each become special people to others in their lives.”
The memories and the people are what she is most thankful for and what she will miss.
“Thank you for the memories,” said Hostetler. “I have met so many great people. Some have retired before me and others still have a long time to go. Everyone has become my family.”
Hostetler has no real plans after she exits the gates for the last time. She enjoys running and, for those who know her, the standard poodles she owns are her heart. Maybe she will return to showing her dogs and competing in shows. Maybe she will volunteer at a local kennel. One thing she knows is she wants to continue staying active. Her goal a few years ago was to complete a full marathon after the age of 60. She checked that off of her list after completing the Frederick marathon.
“Training is the hardest part of running. I ran two Marine Corp marathons, one of which was with Oprah Winfrey in 1994. She beat me by a minute but I still finished,” said Hostetler.
Physical activity has always been a huge component of her life and she plans to keep it up.
“With no big plans, I guess I’ll bob and weave like a boxer to the opportunities that will come. I just want to live life, be happy and enjoy. I’ll take it in stride,” said Hostetler.
When asked if she had one last thing to say to Fort Detrick, she said, “It’s been a ride, a fun ride. Thank you.”