Mike Fowler, Training and Doctrine Command Capabilities Management-Maneuver Support technical director, is retiring Dec. 20 -- the end of a career he began at Fort Leonard Wood just about 33 years ago. But that's just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the combined 122 years of service the Fowler family has given to the post over the past 73 continuous years.
"But that ends Friday," Fowler said.
The story begins with Fowler's grandfather, Oran, who began working at Fort Leonard Wood in 1946, after first owning a gas station near Linn Creek, Missouri, just after the dam that created the Lake of the Ozarks was built.
"When they opened Fort Leonard Wood in the early 1940s, there weren't a lot of job opportunities in this area," Fowler said. "It was a big boost to my grandfather to have a government career."
Fowler said that when his grandfather began working on post, it wasn't being used by the Army.
"He was a caretaker while the post was closed from '46 to '50, after World War II," Fowler said. "He retired in 1969 after 23 years, and both my mom and dad started working here in the early 1950s."
Fowler said his mother and father each had more than 30 years of service on post, and when he started working here Feb. 2, 1987 -- Groundhog Day -- he worked in the same building as his mother.
"It was an old, World War II-era building," he said. "I worked upstairs and my mom worked downstairs."
Fowler said he's seen a lot of changes on post over the years -- some of them physical.
"When I started, it was when the Engineer School was getting ready to move here," he said. "The MP and CBRN schools didn't come until 1999. There wasn't much around -- all the things we take for granted now. There was one gate, basically, with one small guard shack. The (Maneuver Support Center of Excellence) building we're in wasn't even here."
Fowler said he remembers hand-carrying staffing papers around in large envelopes called shotguns to various offices.
"In a lot of ways, it was easier then," he said. "With all the automation we have now -- the emails we can send -- timelines have shrunk. We can do things so much faster. When I started here things were more deliberate. It's more spur of the moment now."
Fowler is a local guy, born in Waynesville -- "back when Waynesville had a hospital" -- and plans to spend his retirement years working on his hobbies: golfing and fishing.
"My job had me travelling a lot," he said. "I'm fortunate to be retiring while I still have some time to enjoy my life. I haven't had my boat in the water in two years."
He said he also plans on doing some remodeling on his house and restoring some old cars -- specifically a 1960 Chevrolet Corvair that's been in his family since it was new. There's also a new grandchild he wants to spend more time with.
It's the end of an era at Fort Leonard Wood -- the Fowler era -- as his sons decided not to follow in the family footsteps here.
"I have a son in the Navy, stationed in Mississippi, and the other owns his own business," he said. "So, as I said, it all ends Friday."