By Robert Johnson, Fort Leonard Wood Guidon managing editorOctober 30, 2012
When Darlene Pemberton wakes up Saturday, it will be the first day in four decades that she doesn't work for the contracting office at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Pemberton, the Mission and installation Contracting Command-Fort Leonard Wood director, has been working contracts for the Army on post since Nov. 19, 1973, and on Friday she is officially retiring.
While not the longest-running continuous civilian worker on the fort, Pemberton does hold a special place in the contracting office in both terms of work and work relationships.
"I've actually held every job in the contracting office, except one -- the administrative assistant," Pemberton said. "I started as a GS-4 clerk with the goal of someday making it to GS-7."
While Pemberton represents a wealth of historical knowledge on contracts that will be leaving, it is her personality and friendship that will be missed by others in the office.
"You've never met another person like Darlene," said Heidi St. Dennis. "I've known her for nearly 25 years, and I've never known her to have a bad day. If you knock on her door, she will always take the time to stop what she's doing, look at you and listen to what you have to say. She is just wonderful to work with and she will be sorely missed."
Those comments are echoed throughout the installation, as most individuals who have met or worked with Pemberton have nothing but praise for her.
"These people here are like family to me," Pemberton said. "Many of them working here today weren't even alive when I started this job, but they are all important to me. They are probably what I will miss the most when I leave here."
Pemberton went on to describe many of the changes she has seen at Fort Leonard Wood and in the contracting profession over the years.
"One of the biggest changes was contracting becoming a true career field. Now we are a separate command, but in the 70s, that wasn't the case," she said. "We were under the directorate of industrial operations, and people just didn't leave the job, so that really hampered your ability to get promoted."
In 1980, the contracting career field became professionalized and while this was a minor change to people outside of the contracting office, it was a significant transformation within.
"Once the career field was professionalized, you then started to see people moving up, as someone might be here for a year to meet grade requirements before moving on. It really helped open opportunities for me," Pemberton said.
While the first contracting building Pemberton worked in is long gone, her current office holds yet another memory for Pemberton.
"This building was originally a dental clinic, and when I was 17, I had my wisdom teeth removed in the office right around the corner," she said with a smile.
While Pemberton is retiring, she isn't stopping.
"My husband, Darrell, and I have plans to travel. My son is in the Air Force and getting ready to go to Germany, and we have plans to visit him, plus we have plans to visit a lot of sights here in the U.S. that we haven't been to," she said.
For those still working in contracting, Pemberton said she reminds them to keep up on their regulations and always keep an even keel.
"Of course, I told Jim Tucker, who will be the acting director, that he can call me anytime if he needs help," she added.
While the transition to retirement may be an adjustment, Pemberton did say there is one thing she will not miss.
"Year end. I will not miss that stress at all," she said with a laugh.