02 October 2018

Anna Bussard - Anna Bussard (background) diligently works the switchboards at Fort Detrick.

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End of an Era at Fort Detrick- Telephone Operators Say Goodbye After Decades of Service
Lanessa Hill, USAG Public Affairs
Some of us remember Lily Tomlin’s portrayal of Ernestine, the feisty telephone operator on the 1960’s hit show, “Laugh-In”. Tomlin’s character answered calls, fielded complaints and was feisty with customers. Fort Detrick is very fortunate to have several women who “counted rings” but unlike Ernestine, they very happily greeted customers who were trying to find their way to the correct units on the Installation. Together, these ladies have a combined 135 years-experience as telephone operators and 62 of those years have been right here at Fort Detrick.
Anna Bussard and Connie Shafer sit in a little office in the basement of the Fort Detrick Headquarters building. The phones don’t ring as much as they did when they began and soon the jobs they’ve enjoyed for decades will be gone. Live operators are going away and the general public will be greeted with an automated system designed to navigate callers.
Anna started at Fort Detrick on her 20th wedding anniversary after leaving Bell Atlantic. “I didn’t work for a year and a half after I left the phone company. A friend worked here at Detrick and told me there was an opening so I started a week later. That’s unheard of now. Things are so different,” said Bussard.
Connie retired from Verizon. “After I retired, it wasn’t long before I realized I needed a routine again. Things I did every morning were not getting done until afternoon sometimes. So, I needed something,” said Shafer.
When both women began working part-time at Fort Detrick they were in building S-10, or what is now known as the Fort Detrick Thrift Shop. There were also many more Soldiers and not as many big buildings, the ladies reminisced.
“We really helped a lot of people and that is what was best about this job. For many years, Soldiers who were overseas would contact us and we would connect them with their families here in the states,” said Bussard. “My husband served in the Army so connecting families was definitely my fondest moments.” For Shafer it’s about the team, the people. “I think for most of us it’s not about the money. I mean, some will miss the money but for most of us we will miss each other, the people, the team.”
Anna and Connie knew each other before coming to Fort Detrick. In fact Anna is the one credited for Connie coming here. Together they took lots of girl trips to the beach with two other very close friends.
“Back then we had so much fun. We lost two of them but we remain very close friends,” said Shafer. “We really have built a good friendship and have lots of great memories here.”
Together they talked about how friendly everyone has been during their time here.
“The men used to clean our cars when it snowed so we didn’t have to,” said Bussard.
“Recently the elevator was broken in our building so the men in our office went and brought my car to the loading dock so it was easier for me. That’s just really nice and I really appreciated that,” said Shafer.
Almost in sync with each other, as they have been for so many years, they say “Thank you so much Fort Detrick for all the great memories.”
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