By Mr. Jeffrey M Soares (Army Medicine)February 1, 2019
People often say kindness goes a long way. When it comes to Jan Cole, it has gone on for more than 49 years within the gates of Fort Detrick, Maryland. This February, Cole will be retiring after nearly five decades of combined service to the U.S. government, as both a federal civilian employee and a contract worker. The majority of her career has been spent as a budget analyst, and for the past 30 years she has been a valued member of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, having transferred in 1988 from USAMMDA's higher headquarters, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
Cole credits her longevity at Fort Detrick to a former Frederick High School teacher that she considers one of the most influential people in her life. While a student during the mid-1960s, Cole's typing instructor advised her to pursue a position at the Frederick, Maryland, Army post. During that time, Frederick was not the bustling city that it is today. Cole remembers that "most local jobs were only in grocery stores and gas stations," so Fort Detrick was the place to work.
However, the post was not very large back then, and people did not usually leave their jobs, so open positions were few and far between. Nevertheless, her teacher kept encouraging her to apply, as he was certain "a government position would be a stable and secure job."
In this particular case, at least, he certainly was right.
Cole began her career as a federal employee in 1967, and she feels very fortunate to have withstood being laid off as part of a government Reduction in Force, or RIF. During this time, she worked in the insurance industry, until she was called to return to her federal civilian status in 1972. Cole explained that she initially returned in a temporary position with the National Park Service at Fort Detrick, but then moved in 1973 to a permanent role as a budget clerk for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Laboratory. She remained with USAMRDL until her transfer to the USAMRMC in 1978, where she worked for a decade before her transfer to USAMMDA.
As a lifelong resident of Frederick County, born and raised, Cole fondly recalls her early days in the region, and her schooling years, during which she participated in the school bands. She spoke about her desire to become a nurse, and how her parents had hoped she would attend Hood College to pursue the field. However, after watching an educational film on the "grim reality" of the medical world, her focus quickly switched to mathematics and finance, which she truly enjoyed -- and the rest is history.
Speaking of history, Cole related a very interesting detail during our meeting.
"When I first started working at USAMRMC, we didn't have computers but did everything on paper," Cole explained. "The government then designed a computerized finance system called CADS (Commitment and Disbursement System), and there were five of us that worked seven days a week to input the budget history for the prior year, so we could have an electronic budget to go forward with.
"Well, they carried that system over to USAMMDA, and I used this when I came over in 1988," she continued. "And we just closed out the old CADS system this past September! I never thought that I'd be part of helping to input data on the new system 30 years ago, and then help to close it out after all of that time!"
After retiring from full-time federal civilian service in 2004, Cole enjoyed her USAMMDA team -- or rather, family -- so much that she chose to continue in her role part-time as a contractor. Over the past 15 years, she has worked for five different government contracting companies, but has remained truly dedicated in her position as a budget analyst throughout this time.
"Steadfast is an excellent description of Jan," confirmed Amber Baughman, USAMMDA Administrative Services Division director. "She certainly has been the glue that has kept our great team together all of these years. While others have come and gone, Jan has provided her peers, and supervisors, with the continuity to help make the ASD group successful.
"When something goes wrong, we know we can go to Jan, and she offers her wisdom from the past to help us find a solution for the future. In fact, the ASD staff have given her a nickname befitting of her many contributions: we call her 'Mama Jan.'"
Now, "Mama Jan" plans to enjoy her official retirement by traveling more, practicing her crochet and doing fun activities with her family members, nearby and in Florida, where both her sister and brother live. She will continue to live in Frederick County, to remain near her many friends.
"I'll travel to visit my son and his wife, and my two grandsons, who all live in different states, and I'll visit my siblings in Florida," said Cole. "I enjoy bus trips, and cruises, and I like to fly as well, but only in good weather."
After meeting with her, one would think Cole could bring along sunshine wherever she goes.
"It's been a great 30 years here, and I really mean it," she said. "I've been blessed with a great group of people to work with -- my co-workers, staff and supervisors. It's such a caring place, and everyone is willing to help you always, and share their knowledge with you. It's like a family, and I'm really going to miss everyone here."
Yes, she has been a constant light, brightly shining with a positive attitude that all admire. One can be sure that Cole will be greatly missed by her USAMMDA teammates, but her influence and contributions over the past three decades will not be forgotten by the organization.
"Jan Cole will truly be missed," said Army Col. Ryan Bailey, USAMMDA commander. "She has dedicated almost 50 years to serving the Department of Defense as both a government employee and contractor."
"We are saying farewell to a great person who brought so much value to the organization," he added. "Jan is truly respected for her financial and budgeting expertise, and we wish her all the best. She can relax in retirement knowing that her service to her country and the Warfighter is the noblest of causes."
While on her way to a well-deserved retirement, however, Cole continues to think of others.
"This way, with my leaving, someone else will have the opportunity to take on a new career, and have a good life, like I did," she said. "But I'm very appreciative of getting to know and work with everyone here."
It would be a safe bet to say that everyone at USAMMDA feels the same.