By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneSeptember 25, 2009
Fifty-mile drives and new computer technology were the challenges that Melba Moody faced when she first reported for work Sept. 20, 1989 at what is now Fox Army Health Center.
That was 20 years ago and Fox was a full-blown hospital, with an emergency room, surgical facilities and hospital rooms. Moody's plan was to work for the hospital for a year or two and then return to her family farm in Lawrence County.
Those plans changed.
"I've spent so much time here that this is like family," she said.
But another part of her family - her husband, a daughter and son and their spouses, 10 grandchildren and a host of other relatives - are pulling more strongly than her Fox family these days, and Moody has decided it's time to retire. A retirement reception in her honor is scheduled for Thursday from noon to 2 p.m. at Fox.
"I'm excited. I'm anxious. I'm going to miss the people here terribly," she said.
"When I first started, I had been driving for about a month and I thought to myself 'I don't know if I can do this for a year.' Now I don't think anything about the drive. I have loved working at Fox. I love the people, the patients, and I have loved my work. I didn't know it was going to be so rewarding."
Her first job at Fox was as a front-desk receptionist in family practice. It was a good place to start for a wife and mom who had raised two children while her husband had stints as a chaplain in both the active Army and the Reserves throughout their marriage.
"I'd already had 20 years exposure to the Army when I came to Fox," she said. "I loved being a pastor's wife and I loved it when he was a chaplain in the Army. It was very rewarding, especially when we were dealing with Soldiers and their families. He'd lead worship and I would lead the choir. I was just one of those wives that whatever my husband was doing, I was doing, too."
Fox gave her an opportunity to continue working with Soldier families and retirees. But the job came with some challenges.
"It was the first time I had ever sat down in front of a computer in my life," Moody recalled with a laugh.
After two years as a receptionist, Moody became secretary to the adjutant, the commanding officer's administrative assistant. Then, during an 18-month period, the adjutant position was vacant and Moody was called on to fill in the vacancy. In 1998, she was promoted to adjutant and she has served as the adjutant/public affairs officer and chief of administrative services since then.
"The job covers a lot of different areas. I am in charge of correspondence, the command's public affairs, protocol, media relations, writing and photography, and planning ceremonies and events. It's a lot of stuff rolled into one position," she said.
Moody has served at Fox with 10 commanders.
"I have enjoyed every single commander," she said. "Some you get closer to. But I have never had a bad day at Fox. Some days have been extremely stressful. There have been days when I had to laugh or I would have cried. It's been high stress and high tempo, but it's been fun.
"From my first day in 1989, this job has been a gift to me from God. Every promotion, every upward movement has been a gift from God's hand to mine. It's been a very great 20 years."
Moody has seen a lot of changes at Fox since 1989, changes that brought more efficiency to the facility while also changing its patient services.
"When I came here this was an inpatient facility with an emergency room and 22 beds upstairs. We had a surgery and an ICU. It was a hospital," she recalled.
"Over the years, the ER was closed and surgery was closed. There was an audit and keeping the ER open was costing $3 million a year for only a few patients it would see in a seven-day period. It just was not cost effective at all."
Once the ER and surgery clinic were closed, Fox was designated a health center.
But, in time, that designation created new opportunities for Fox. Physical therapy was added to its services, optometry services were expanded, family practice became primary care and a wellness center opened in 2007. Today, Fox has 10 clinics - allergy/immunization, behavioral medicine, dental, internal medicine, optometry, pathology, physical therapy, primary care, radiology and warrior medicine.
All the changes have been good for Fox and its patients. But one change - a congressional mandate in the late 1990s that brought an end to primary care services for retirees over the age of 65 at military medical treatment facilities - caused a lot of heartache for both the staff and the patients at Fox.
"We had been seeing a lot of retirees for years and suddenly they were not able to come here anymore. It was traumatic for the Soldiers and their wives. It was heartbreaking for all of us," Moody said.
The other trying time at Fox involved the deployment of several of its doctors to the Iraqi war, a time "when we were incredibly short on staff," she said. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created challenges as Fox has further developed services to address the issues of post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Moody also was involved in the massive, multimillion dollar renovation at Fox that is nearing completion.
Through all the changes, Fox's mission has remained the same - to take care of Soldiers and their families.
"That's always been important to me, especially when Soldiers are deployed and the family is separated," Moody said. "We want to care for those families so Soldiers don't have to worry."
Moody, herself, knows what that separation is like. Her husband deployed to Iraq in 2003. Her son, a staff sergeant, has also deployed overseas and is serving in the Alabama National Guard in Decatur.
Moody's husband, Thomas, who is now a retired lieutenant colonel, is a classic car buff. At one time, Moody was his body paint specialist.
"I painted his cars until I came to work at Fox," she said. "I must have painted 100 cars. But I got tired of overspray in my hair and paint under my nails. I told him 'I'm going to get a real job.'"
Although her husband still enjoys his car hobby, Moody doesn't plan on rejoining the paint crew.
She wants to spend time with her family of some 50 relatives, volunteer in her church (New Life Assembly of God of Moulton) with its fine arts program and a new youth choir, build a new home on the 40-acre family farm and travel the U.S.
"I'm drawing the floor plans for our new home," she said. "Twenty-five years ago, we purchased four front columns from a home built in 1832 in Eutaw, Ala. It was being torn down. We are going to use the four columns in the front of our new home. When we're not working on that, we want to take day trips and travel to see our country."
Moody will always remember her work at Fox as a "blessed time" in her life and, as her official retirement date of Sept. 30 looms, she looks forward to turning over her work to a younger generation.
"If you are presented with an opportunity, take it. Or a challenge, go with it, work with it. You'll learn and you'll advance," Moody said. "Take advantage of the opportunities you've been given. Work hard and thank God for your blessings every day. Enjoy life. Enjoy the people around you."