31 Years of Memories—Year 12
12/28/1992 – 12/28/93
Sam was 1-year-old, Allie 4, Meghan 7, Dale 42, me 38, and Fort Ord 75 years old and the base was closing. Congress warned in the “Base Realignment and Closure Act” that closure of Fort Ord was imminent. In response, our school district initially did the responsible thing and generated a list of employees, their priority numbers based on year hired and subjects taught. The lists hung on public bulletin boards near bathrooms, in teacher lounges, next to mailboxes or in mailboxes, on any available space on campus. It was the first question asked when you met someone.
“Hi, so, where are you on the list?” or “Hi, what’s your number?”—so GATACCA-like in nature.
To which the ubiquitous response was “Oh, I already have a job in ______________” or “I am safe. They won’t get rid of math or science teachers” (implying that these lucky people were more valuable that the rest).
To which the usual reply was “Oh, yeah, sorry, about that and good luck on the job search” or “Wow, yeah, you’re in a good place.”
Dale and I were momentarily safe, yet the stress on our family was as insidious as a cancer diagnosis with its impending treatment. We were only “safe” until the next CAT scan or PET scan, or in our case, the updated list. No one knew exactly what effect the departure of 22,000 troops would have on local schools and businesses, but there was plenty of speculation.
We had seen the army come and go with a variety of deployments. In 1989, the seventh IDL deployed to Panama to restore order and then captured, Dictator Manuel Noriega. In 1990, the seventh IDL joined the coalition troops in the Middle East to defeat Iraq during Desert Storm. One of the last deployments was to quell the 1992 Los Angeles-Rodney King riots. Each time, when Congress called out the Cavalry, it took its toll on our students, most of whom cried for days while we consoled and tried to teach them. Often, bomb threats to the campus accompanied the deployments, as though students had anything to do with the government decisions. The bomb scares were nerve-wracking distractions as we stood in evacuation lines for an hour or so, until the military police secured the campus.
So, we were familiar with the military response, but nothing prepared us (and the school district) with the rapidity the military used for the base evacuation. The day after the government announcement, oversize eighteen-wheelers carted off military mobile homes to God-knows-where. Each day, three to five students submitted transfer requests; my average class enrollment of thirty dropped to five students. Our district could do nothing. Teachers signed contracts in September at the beginning of the school year and Congress decided in October to close the base. Every teacher remained in class, regardless of student enrollment, while school funds plummeted with ADA (average daily attendance) as over 500 students dropped to Germany, Hawaii, Korea, or wherever the military sent its troops and their families. We began the year with over 1300 students and ended with barely 400. Dale and I survived for this year.
I jogged, during my fourth period prep, through the ghost town of a base. No sounds from abandoned homes, no evidence of life, no evidence of succession in that first year. It was a significant year of change for all of us.