About 30 minutes before Friday's retirement ceremony at Fort Gordon's Alexander Hall, Brig. Gen. Jan A. Hicks heard a familiar voice.
"Mrs. (Janice) Kitchens came and said 'Gen. (Douglas) Buchholz is here.' That's what a protocol officer does. To the last minute, she was a protocol officer," Fort Gordon's commanding general said about Mrs. Kitchens, who was among the 48 retirees honored at the ceremony. Thirty other retirees chose not to participate.
"Today brings out greatly conflicting emotions, having to say goodbye to the best folks in the regiment and federal service," Brig. Gen. Hicks said. "There's an apprehension when you consider the talent and experience we are losing with one fell swoop ... It's balanced by the joy and excitement this opens for each of you."
Each month, Fort Gordon officials honor civilians and military personnel who are retiring, but there are usually fewer than 10 people in the monthly ceremony, said Marla Jones, a Fort Gordon spokeswoman.
"This is a special ceremony," she said, explaining that contract employees will replace civil servants in the personnel office Monday as part of the Army's reorganization.
More than half of the retirees at the ceremony had been part of the military personnel office. Other offices, such as the directorate of information management, went "in-house to compete with contracts. They have to go to leaner organizations," Ms. Jones said.
"I will probably go through withdrawals next week," said Jacquelyn Maronski, who retired after 36 years, 35 of them in the military personnel office. "This has been my whole life."
She said she met her husband through her job.
"I in-processed my husband 29 years ago," she said.
One of her duties was assisting HIV-positive soldiers.
"That's the main thing I'm going to miss," said Mrs. Maronski, who plans to volunteer in the community with HIV patients.
Karleen Nichols, who also worked in military personnel and is retiring after 22 years, said she had mixed emotions about the day.
"I cried through the whole beginning," she said. "You just don't think retirement will get here as quickly as it does."
For Mrs. Kitchens, retiring after 36 years means having the time to be a full-time grandmother and wife, but she said there are things she will miss about Fort Gordon.
"The people and the job," said Mrs. Kitchens, who spent her last day on the job planning the retirement ceremony. "I got to meet so many interesting people."