FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Lola Coble, Department of Human Resources military personnel division chief, began her civilian service as a clerk-typist at Fort Leonard Wood on Dec. 18, 1968.
Fifty-two years later, she has retired as the longest-working civilian without prior military service in the history of the installation. Her coworkers said she left an unprecedented impact that will be felt for generations to come.
A virtual retirement ceremony was held for Coble on Dec. 30 in recognition of her contributions where coworkers took turns highlighting her achievements and thanking her for her service.
Jesse French, director of human resources at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood, worked with Coble for the last 17 years.
“(She) and I have been in the trenches, and she has been a joy,” he said. “I know she has touched the lives of a lot of Soldiers, civilians and contractors across this installation.”
Eric Adams, Casualty Assistance Center chief, said the focus should not be on the number of years Coble served, but on the impact she has left on Fort Leonard Wood.
“When we think about 52 years, a lot of times we reflect on the number,” he said. “I want everyone to reflect on all the development and growth she has been a part of.”
Adams highlighted her time with the 43rd Adjutant General Reception Battalion, emphasizing the essential role she played and the long-term impact of her work there.
“That is the first impression and encounter we give men and women who join the military and serve our country,” he said. “Part of the success at the 43rd is because of the seed you grew, watered and developed while you were a supervisor there.”
According to Adams, Coble, who once served as the chief of the Casualty Assistance Center, is to thank for the center’s continued success.
“The Casualty Assistance Center’s success is all because of Lola,” he said. “She laid the groundwork that makes the center extremely successful in its current state.”
Adams told Coble she should feel proud of the lifetime of work she’s dedicated to the installation.
“It is enormous to think someone gave 52 years of their life to supporting this mission,” he said. “Know that all your effort, all your time, all the life that you have packed is not in vain. We appreciate you and what you have sacrificed.”
He presented Coble with a flag case representing her service to the community and family members during her 14 years with the Casualty Assistance Center.
In honor of her service, she was also presented with a folded flag that had flown over U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood.
Among the gifts and mementos presented were: a wooden wall plaque with a battlefield cross representing the sacrifices she made serving fallen Soldiers and their families; a pen set depicting the Army Values; and a piece of artwork entitled “Patriot.”
“Your commitment of 52 years defines selfless service, putting others needs and the mission before your own interest,” he said. “The time that you dedicated is something you will never get back, but you gave it up selflessly to all of us.”
Staff recognized her husband, Kenny, with a certificate of appreciation.
Keith Pritchard, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army Missouri — West, presented Coble with a certificate of achievement for exceptional leadership and dedication.
“Coble is an institution at Fort Leonard Wood,” Pritchard said. “She has risen through many levels and different areas of her career, but every one has been an area of service, and the service that she has given our country, our Army, Fort Leonard Wood and the citizens of the state of Missouri just cannot be replaced and it cannot be overlooked.”
Coble’s legacy, he added, will continue with those she has helped.
“She is the definition of loyalty, dedication, integrity and service to our country, and she is exactly what Fort Leonard Wood has needed over the years,” he said. “Her service will be felt here. She will live on to all those people she’s trained, all the people she’s touched — it will go on for decades.”
One of those people was Pritchard’s own father, who worked with Coble in the late 1960s and early 1970s during his 30 years of civil service.
“Lola helped him along the way,” Pritchard said. “He had great respect for her. He is no longer with us, but he lives on in her work. From a personal viewpoint, there is no one I respect more (than her).”
Highlighting Coble’s time with the CAC, he said she stood as an example for everyone.
“That service is absolutely outstanding — it is one of the most important things we do in the United States Army,” Pritchard said. “That leadership and your work during that section of your time — and the time that spanned from the first day to the last — you’ve been an example for the rest of us. I am truly proud to know you.”
Coble said the time she spent with the CAC stands out in her own mind, as well.
“I felt like it was an honorable thing to be able to provide military funeral honors for our fallen veterans and to provide support to family members who’d lost their loved ones,” she said. “That was a very good feeling, although, it was a sad time for everyone.”
According to Coble, service members and colleagues impacted her just as much as she impacted them.
“We’ve watched many things happen; we’ve went from working around the Vietnam era through many different conflicts,” she said. “They have all left me with a wealth of experience. They mentored me, and I am really appreciative of that.”
Her retirement became effective Sunday, and Coble — who is from nearby Lynchburg, Missouri — said she plans to remain local, spending time with her two grandchildren and helping her husband on their farm.