The Sounds Of Silence

The Sounds Of Silence
  Sheri de Grom

The Sounds Of Silence shadowed the faces of our close-knit family within the Office of The Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Ord, California, that day in 1991. Next came shock, disbelief, anger—it couldn’t happen to us. We’d heard talk, but unfortunately our Congressman, Leon Panetta, now Secretary of Defense, had sold us out. Closing Fort Ord would help balance the federal budget and that was Panetta’s mission under President Clinton’s administration.

I’d never worked in such a tight group as the one we’d formed at Fort Ord JAG. We’d been together thirteen years and had gone through the good, the bad and the ugly together. We’d rejoiced at weddings, children’s achievements, grieved with office mates when they lost parents and then thought nothing worse could happen when we lost two of our own. We were family.

We kept saying, “But we do it better than any of the other installations that are staying open. Why us?”

We’d been kicked in the gut but we weren’t down. To save money, all non-essential contractors on Fort Ord were let go. We made a game out of cleaning our own offices and yes, the toilets as well. The cleaning rotated equally among attorneys, paralegals, file clerks and investigators. No one was exempt.

Friday afternoon became special. We organized a new sport. Instead of a round of golf at one of the famous golf courses, we played basketball trash and became even more loyal to each other. Being a legal office, we produced some mighty heavy trash but learned to print on both sides of the paper when we had to start buying our own.

That’s right. The final two years I was at Fort Ord, I purchased box after box of copy paper, legal size of course. I was in the legal business after all. I wasn’t the only one buying office supplies—everyone that wanted to get their work done and keep the morale of their staff up did the same.

There was a bright side to buying your own office supplies. Yes, I still had to conform in ways, but I discovered a pink stapler didn’t disappear at the same rate as a black one. I still have the same one I purchased in 1992. My department produced thousands of files and suddenly we were color-coded with lavender, powder blue, hot pink, and other shades. Oh the joy of colored paper clips and funny sticky notes.  We still had to write with black ink but at least the pen was not a government issue.


We looked for anything to be happy about in those dreary days. Fort Ord over looked the sparkling expanse of Monterey Bay and the majority of its winding tangle of streets never let you forget the tranquility of the bay was just over the sand dunes.

Decisions were tough. Should I stay and see what happened to the career I’d worked so hard to build? I was eleven years shy of retirement and I’d become responsible for our family. My husband was ill.

I’d sent out resumes and head hunters came calling. They offered me excellent money but no one provided the health insurance I needed for my husband. He now had a pre-existing condition.

With this blog, I’m beginning a new series. I’ll continue the book reviews but my platform of healthcare, insurance reform, defense policy and other legislative musings will be woven in.

Allow me to provide you an example: Fort Ord, California, was established in 1917 but not one building was declared historically significant on its 27,827 acres on the day it closed or on any day since.

Perhaps the most horrific casualties of all were the soldiers who had given the best years of their lives to the military. They were told they were no longer wanted. They were surplus. Seventh Infantry Light was moving to Fort Lewis, Washington, but not everyone was going.

The soldiers, enlisted and officers alike, were caught in the crossfire. They knew their jobs in the Army. They hadn’t planned to get out. Most had families to support. Where would they go? Where would they find work? Would driving an armored vehicle translate to the civilian world?

For the civilian employees at Fort Ord: some qualified for a $25,000 one time only buy-out. After taxes, a friend told me, he had around $11,000.

Other civilians were eligible for early retirement and accepted reduced benefits. Others were eligible for retirement and they simply did so.

For the rest of us, we faced a gamble. We knew a small fraction would be retained at our office but we didn’t know how many, which positions, or at what pay grades.

I had a family to support and we lived in one of the highest cost-of-living areas in  the U.S.I sent out government applications, threw my name in the pool and made what seemed like thousands of phone calls. Thankfully, my reputation preceded me and I was hired by the U.S. Coast Guard in Washington, D.C. This farmer’s daughter had no idea just how deep the water was.

Has your congressman made promises to you? What are you doing to protect yourself? Will it help? When the final cuts are made, where will you be?

Please join me for this continuing series on the current 2012 military drawdown, to include Tri Care and other benefits.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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11 Responses to The Sounds Of Silence

  1. Diane Pelletier says:

    Hi Sheri,
    I still recall a meeting I had to attend concerning the closure of Fort Ord. I was told I was one of the lucky few that would keep my job, but at the expense of dropping from a GS-09 to a GS-07 and, drumroll please…
    …I was also to take on seven other positions with that downgrade. Oh, by the way, that was only for the half of my job that was at Silas B., I still had to continue my job at the SJA as well.

    That being said, I miss Fort Ord, and the few times I have been back TDY, it was always a sad trip down memory lane. To see the old buildings boarded up and the overgrown weeds masking what used to be the plush green grass of the parade field by Martinez Hall. Visiting the once beautiful place that I met my Husband for the first time and the home we lived in together brought tears to my eyes. It was a shadow of what it once was.

    Thank goodness the rest of the Monterey Bay was as beautiful as I remembered.

    • Diane – Thanks for stopping by. Fort Ord and Monterey will always hold a special place in my heart. Like you, that’s where I met my husband. We had lunch together almost every day and never thought we’d be leaving Monterey/Carmel, even after retirement. And, our office was family. Almost everyone was present when Tom and I married at La playa in Carmel. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered Stillwell Hall wasn’t pronounced a historical marker. I’m discovering interesting facts as I research the closure of Fort Ord along with the drawdown of today’s military. I hope you’ll stay tuned. If you click on the underlined Sounds Of Silence in the opening paragraph, you’ll find different muruals soldiers painted on barracks walls.

      • Hello Ms. de Grom,
        My father was a draftee in 1941 and soldier at Fort Ord later that year. He was a graduate of Art Center, in Los Angles prior to the war. He was assigned by General Stilwell, along with Edward Reep and Joseph Kalina, to produce a mural for the Serviceman’s Club at Fort Ord. Three worked on the mural for nearly 9 months from a studio space in Colton Hall. The mural was installed in the Writing Room of the Club in late 1942. It was in three sections of two ends paintings of roughly 8′ x 8′ and a center painting of 8′ x 13′. The mural was of three maps and the explorers that discovered or influenced the history of the new world. The left image was of the outline of the state of California, the center image was a map of the continental United States and the right image was of South America. There were figures in the corners of the mural of European explorers and globe. There was a single figure of a mountain man at the center of the US map. The were graphic images in the design of compasses and exploration routes, and ship motifs. There was also a legend listing of the explorers at each end of the painting’s upper corners. My Dad lettered their names into this listings as a way to sign their work. I have photo of this work in the writing room from a scrape book of letters from my Dad to my Mom during his 5 years in the Army. Mr. Reep left for officers training school in 1942 and became a War Artist. He lives in Bakersfield, CA and is 94 years old. Mr. Kalina passed away in 1973 and my Dad died in 2001 at age 83.
        I visited Fort Ord in the early 1980’s, with my wife. We drove out to Stilwell Hall and inquired about this mural. But, were unsuccessful in locating it or anyone there about it’s were about. I understand the Stilwell Hall underwent redecoration in 1966 and 1978 and this mural might have been removed, covered over or stolen? My question, do you remember seeing such a mural at Stilwell Hall or possibly know what might have happened to this work. I can send you a digital image of the black and white photo I have of the writing room. I can be emaied at I would appreciate any information or contacts that might be helpful in locating any information on this art mystery from 1942. Please write me back at your convenience and if you should need any of the supporting material that I have from the scrape book. There is a hand written letter from Mrs. Stilwell, from Carol Steinbeck and Col. Frank Dorn, sketches that my Dad had done of the mural figures, a color sketch of the figures and photos of work in progress on the mural. I hope to be hearing from you soon.
        Thank you, Mark A. Mellor, Boothbay Harbor, ME.

        • Mark – What wonderful information about the murual at Stillwell Hall. I must admit I don’t specifically remember a mural in the magnificent building and I was heartbroken to learn it was not declared of historical significance when the base closed. I’ll contact you directly and thank you so much for the information you’ve posted to the blog. If others are interested in joining the discussion about Stillwell Hall and Fort Ord – I’m willing to bring the discussion back to the blog – Fort Ord will always be the primary cornerstone to Sounds Of Silence.

  2. Bill Garrett says:

    Shari, I just linked to “The Sounds of Silence” at the beginning of your blog. So sad to see those murals drawn by the courageous military personnel forced to leave their home base. Then I watched the “You Tube” video of the scenes of the base taken in 2003. What a waste of property. It really is the “death” of a military community. Would that all americans could see the truth.

  3. Bill Garrett says:

    Sheri, you know that Lynn and I where dumbfounded the first time you and Tom shared with us your experience with the closing of Ford Ord. It is hard to believe the waste of military personnel and property, as well as, the cost to the surrounding community all in the name of “balancing the federal budget”. When the costs of such a government decision far outweigh the announced “savings” the american public need to know. Thanks for being a “truth teller”. My prayer is that your series will open our eyes and help us know how to become advocates against such govenment waste in the name of the popular phrase of “balancing the budget”. Keep up the good work.

  4. Patti – Thanks for stopping by. Yes, we all loved Monterey and couldn’t believe what was happening. However, many good things happened in my career and my life after I made up my mind that I was in charge of my own destiny. The Sounds of Silence will series will address many aspects of military life. If you have the opportunity, click on ‘The Sounds of Silence’ within the first line of text and you’ll have the opportunity to tour murals solidiers painted reflecting their lives on Fort Ord.

    • I looked through the pictures and they really are works of art, Sheri. And it’s a shame that they’ll be destroyed. I’m sure they represent the hearts of many soldiers who went to war for the U.S.
      A lot of really well-done drawings and paintings. WOW.

  5. VERY interesting post, Sheri. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I’ve been to Monterey many times and lived in Carmel for a summer. I have a fondness for the coast of California. I can feel how painful it must have been for you and the rest of your group to be discarded by the government like that. It’s really sad. I look forward to your next installment.

    • Patti – I’m so happy you clicked to see the pictures. The multiple barracks they were painted in were bull dozed and it’s only happen-chance the video was taken at all. A student from the university now located on part of the property that was once Fort Ord was roaming around through the buildings recording pictures – that’s the only reason we have the video today. I hope to post a video with most post in this series.

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