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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2014  01:07:52 AM

Safety director’s retirement marks end of era that spans history of Hood

Email   Print   Share By Heather Graham-Ashley, Sentinel News Editor
September 27, 2012 | Living
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Melba Kelder had to have her mother’s permission to obtain a job on Fort Hood in the 1940s. Her son, Mel, still has the note. Courtesy photo
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George Kelder met Melba Springer when he was a Soldier at Fort Hood and she was working in a post dental clinic. They married in 1945 and went on to hold long careers in civil service at Fort Hood. Their son, Mel, will retire next week with more than 31 years in civil service at Fort Hood. Courtesy photo
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Melba Kelder met and had her photo taken with Elvis Presley during the singer’s visit to Dental Clinic No. 4 while he was stationed at Fort Hood. All of the workers at the clinic were taken with Presley, she told her son, Mel. Courtesy photo
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Mel Kelder, director, III Corps and Fort Hood Safety Office, poses with retired Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf during the Gulf War. At the time, Kelder was working as a civilian with 3rd AD. Courtesy photo
Next week will mark the end of an era spanning the history of Fort Hood when Mel Kelder, director, III Corps and Fort Hood Safety Office, retires Monday after more than 31 years of civil service at Fort Hood. Kelder’s retirement will mark the first time since 1942 that a member of his Family has not worked on the installation.

Kelder, whose service at Fort Hood included one year as a meat cutter and more than 30 years at the safety office, followed the paths of his mother and father to the Great Place.

He was a meat cutter at HEB and Albertson’s in Temple when the Clear Creek Commissary had a job opening.

“I was just looking for work,” Kelder said.

He had no idea at the time that that job would lead to a career at Fort Hood and take him all over the world while he accompanied Soldiers as a safety specialist.

“I love the Army. Love what the Army stands for,” Kelder said. “I love what they do for us, what they do for our country.”

Kelder’s father, George, was stationed at Camp Hood in the early 1940s as a Soldier training for World War II.

While serving at Camp Hood, the Soldier from Bethany, Mo., met Melba Springer at the skating rink in downtown Killeen. They married in 1945.

“I practically grew up on Fort Hood,” Kelder said.

He was born at Burrow Clinic, which was located on College Street in Killeen. When he was six months old, his mother went back to work, but took Mel to the post nursery.

“I was there every day until first grade,” Kelder said.

He attended Meadows Elementary on post for six years. Each day after school, Kelder would walk from school to the dental clinic to wait for his mother to finish work.

“Those were fun times,” Kelder said.

Melba was working on post as a dental assistant, a job she obtained with a little help from her mother.

“She was 17, trying to get a job at Camp Hood,” Kelder said. “Her mom had to write a note for her to work as a dental assistant.”

Kelder still has that note, in a frame.

Melba was accepted into the program, with her mother’s permission, and started working at the post dental clinic with then-Capt. Billy Johnson, the former Dental Activity commander after whom one of the current dental clinics on post is named.

Melba retired in November 1992 and still speaks fondly of her time at Fort Hood.

“She just constantly tells me she enjoyed every day and everyone,

especially Capt. Billy Johnson,” Kelder said. “She said he was one of the nicest officers she ever worked for.”

Another individual Melba talks about meeting is Pvt. Elvis Presley.

“She was working at Dental clinic No. 4, which is a vacant lot now, but was next to the old skating rink on post at 37th Street, across from the Phantom Warrior Center,” Kelder said. “She was an X-ray technician at the time, and Elvis came in with the other Soldiers for dental care.”

All of the workers in the clinic were taken by Presley, he said, noting that everybody tried to make it like he was just another Soldier, but they took lots of photos.

Kelder said his mother would send Soldiers, ones she felt were not being cared for properly, home with a packet of dental hygiene accessories and tell them not to come back with mouth like that.

“She loved every minute of it,” Kelder said. “She just loved taking care of Soldiers.”

Kelder’s father, George, served 39 years at Hood, two years as Soldier and 37 in civil service.

During a brief break between his active-duty service and civil service, George worked as a contractor at Killeen Base drilling the tunnels that now dot West Fort Hood.

Kelder knows little about his father’s work during that time.

“He wouldn’t talk about it,” he said. “The only thing he ever said was that he’s never seen so much concrete in his life.”

His father’s civil service began in communications at West Fort Hood, then Killeen Base, and lasted until the elder Kelder’s retirement in 1981.

“All of the lines were above ground on poles,” Kelder said about his father’s work. “He had to climb poles and repair lines to keep phone lines going.”

Kelder followed in his parents’ footsteps in March 1981 when he took a job as a meat cutter at the Clear Creek Commissary until May 1982. He left the commissary in May 1982 to work in the Safety Office as GS-5 intern.

“I was looking at the promotion potential,” Kelder said.

Aside from a five-year stint in Germany with the 3rd Armored Division as the division’s safety manager, Kelder spent his career at Fort Hood.

After five years with 3rd AD, (including five months of Desert Shield/Desert Storm), Kelder used his return rights and came back to Fort Hood as a safety specialist. Next week, he will retire as the director of safety.

As he was cleaning out his desk and looking over old documents, Kelder was struck by some of the changes he has seen over the years.

He noted a test done at Fort Hood during the 1980s, called ADAPT2 – Army Divisional Accident Prevention Test – that involved the 1st Cavalry Division and the 2nd Armored Division.

“It put a captain from each maneuver brigade and a civilian at each of the divisional support commands to be full-time safety officers,” Kelder said. “The test culminated in REFORGER 1987.”

That test was the beginning of what would eventually become the norm for Army safety officers in brigades.

“The U.S. Army Safety Center saw great benefits in having a full-time safety officer at each brigade, but couldn’t resource it properly,” Kelder said. “That concept was considered for years, but came full-circle in 2003 with help of Forces Command Safety Office and the Department of the Army working funding issues. Now each brigade has a civilian safety specialist.”

He also noted the changes he saw in other areas of safety.

Back in 80s and 90s, the Army was losing many Soldiers to privately owned vehicles and motorcycles, but also another 10-15 Soldiers each year to on-duty incidents, Kelder said.

“That’s one thing the Army has done a good thing with, indoctrinating safety culture into on-duty activities,” he said. “It’s good to look at the stats now and see the on-duty fatalities are very minimal.”

What Kelder mostly leaves with is good memories of the great Soldiers and leaders he worked alongside and the times spent with them.

Three deployments to Iraq with III Corps, especially during the surge, are among the highlights of his career.

“It’s been a great career. There are not a lot of organizations like this,” Kelder said. “Just to see the discipline and dedication, every day and in everything that is done.”
 
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