By Michael Norris, Pentagram Assistant EditorMarch 23, 2009
FORT MYER, Va. Aca,!" After 56 years of military and civilian service, Jimmie Byrd is calling it quits. The Directorate of Information Management communications specialist will leave his job April 1 with plans of retiring to North Carolina where a slower pace of life awaits.
Byrd spent 26 years in the Army. The Texas native joined in 1954, had a medical discharge after being run over by a trailer in Alaska, worked for the Air Force from 1959 to 1961, whereupon he was recalled by the Army in 1961 and stayed until leaving the service in 1979.
As a civilian he worked at the Pentagon before coming to the Fort Myer Military Community in 1986. Byrd began working in telephone central office repair for the Army "I had worked in computers in the Air Force before I was recalled to active duty," he remembers. "Instead of letting me go back to computer field in the Army, they sent me to telephone central office repair for 36 weeks. I went to Europe in '62 and there was an overabundance of telephone personnel so I got back in the computer field."
Byrd said he met his wife Carol, who worked in radio repair, in the Army while in Europe. "We went to a Halloween party and ... we just kind of clicked," he said Byrd's job at DOIM involves working on computer networks, installing switches and cables, making sure the cables work. "I've always predominantly been on the side of the house that maintains the infrastructure. I put 'em in place and connect them," he said. "I like the job and the support I'm actually giving to other people. A lot of people couldn't do their job without the communications part of the house.
"In Fort Myer there are a lot of repeat customers because they move people around and they have to have computers and cables reterminated or they have to have them changed to a different location. It's never ending. Most offices change somebody at least every six months."
Byrd said he likes making field calls. "I prefer not to be tied to a cubicle," he said. "You meet your customers when you're out in the field. I think customer relations is one of the important things to doing a good job."
Byrd is a familiar figure on post, easily identified by a baseball cap he wears which he got from the USO after helping them with their computers. At first glance, you might think the cap, emblazoned with the USO logo, is a faded red. "It was always pink. I wear a pink hat," he says matter-of-factly.
"It's one of those things that when my wife and daughter and I were in Florida we had a way of keeping up with each other, since they're both five foot and under. A pink hat is easy to spot in a crowd. I just stuck with it. It's caused a lot of people to comment here on post, but I'm man enough to enjoy myself and I'm not worried about what their comments are."
Byrd said he plans to move to North Carolina as soon as his house in Springfield, Va., sells. "My wife and I are going to buy a place north of Fort Bragg ... get away from the noise of the city," he said. The couple has a daughter in Durham. A couple of old Army buddies are also settled in the state and Byrd said he hopes to follow them when they hit the Daytona/Taladega /Charlotte race car circuit.
Other hobbies he hopes to continue pursuing are collecting Irish stamps and woodworking. He plans to build bookcases and other furniture designed for a specific place and purpose. "We have quite a large library," Byrd explained, citing "how to" books, mysteries, science fiction and history.
"I've got probably 3,000 books down there [in storage] and another 1,000 to go. I've got 300 cook books - I like to cook."
Byrd is kind of an all-around Mr. Fixit. "There's very little I can't do around the house, but at my age I'm getting to where I don't do some of it," he joked. "It's a challenge to do it yourself. A lot of times if you want a piece of furniture and you want it to fit in a specific place, you can't find it. If you're handy you can build it."
Byrd said he's seen a lot of changes in the computer world since he's been in the field. "The big change is the fact that everyone now has a PC which has a lot of memory on it, whereas when I first came in you had a computer room that was running some type of IBM mainframe," he said. "There was nothing out on a person's desk. The size of the machines has gotten smaller and the ability to use them has grown very much.
"The computer field is changing daily," he said. His advice to those coming into his profession is to "anticipate what is coming next and be prepared to make changes." Byrd has also seen a lot of change in the local landscape. "I've watched Fort Myer change a lot. I was here when South Post was still open ... in '65 after coming back from Europe," he said. "I was one of the first to move into Tencza Terrace. And then I got to help blow it up."
Byrd, along with a member of the Tencza family and one of the building's last residents got to depress a ceremonial plunger when the Army highrise was demolished in 2006. He took home a commemorative brick from the rubble that he plans to bring to North Carolina. Byrd said he enjoyed Washington when he first moved here but has grown weary of it as the pace has picked up.
"I was here when they built 395," he said. "Traffic has not gotten any better regardless of what the road building has been like. It just perpetuates itself. We're looking forward to North Carolina and a slower pace.
"It's been enjoyable. I'm really going to miss a lot of the people. A lot of them are like family. I'll turn in my phone on the first and hopefully my replacement will remember what I've said. I've tried to leave a list of everything that needs to be done."