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Three moves and forty years: Burroughs recalls history of ARPC

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Air Reserve Personnel Center has seen many people and processes come and go over its long evolution, but very few have been along on that journey as long as Accountability Officer Margaretta "Gretta" Burroughs.

The near-40-year veteran of the center began her career in records management at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, but transferred to the York Street location five months before its transition to Lowry Air Force Base, Colo., in September 1976 to be closer to home.

"I remember a couple major things at York Street - besides than the camaraderie," Burroughs said. "And that was people could smoke at their desks and they had these ashtrays. I could also remember going out to the dock for breaks and for fresh air, I loved that."

The Air Force cleared the air by later banning smoking, but the working atmosphere remained vibrant both at the original location near downtown Denver and during later transitions.

"York Street had some fun memories for me, as well as the tasking that I had," she said. Burroughs had changed her career field to come to the ARRPC. "The excitement of going to a new building was in everybody's ears and face."

Her job changed again after her stint at the York Stree location, moving from a more clerical function into personnel specialist.

"Most people entered into ARPC as a file clerk, regardless if they were military or civilian," Burroughs said. "At Lowry, it changed a little, we became a little more sophisticated. We then had telephones on our desks. We had IBM selective typewriters. I also worked in the word processing area which became more computerized."

The first computerizations at ARPC were nominal, and most of the work was still accomplished the way it always been - by hand.

"You were standing on your feet for about six and a half hours a day (filing)," said Burroughs, who added that that comprised all but about an hour each day. ARPC once boasted 600,000 physical records ranging in thickness between one and six inches, and all had to be managed with care and attention. "I used to hate not having a perfect record. Air Force people depended on us doing a good job and a correct job."

Paper records are filed in tall cabinets. While ARPC held their records in seven-foot-high stacks, the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis - a fellow records management organization in the U.S. government - uses cabinets as high as 12 feet. Burroughs said she was grateful they didn't have so many to mange, and more than the filing systems have evolved.

"At least now with our modern equipment and technology, we have 21st century, full circle, scan-documents-in (systems)," Burroughs said. "You can pull them off through the computer. You only have to print what you really have to have. You could look at it on the computer and do your calculations (to) answer the customer's question. All those things have just enhanced and improved and I am sure the way the people work here at ARPC, that will even be greater in the next forty years."

The hand filing used since the center began eventually met microfilm, and while it created extra tasks by having to photo sets of documents, eventually would save them lots of time when referencing documents. That evolution of that technology, as much as her own career, has remained a hallmark for Burroughs's tenure.

"We became more sophisticated as equipment and time enhanced," she said. "As I grew with ARPC as a personnelist, I became a lead, then I became a first line, then I became a branch chief, then I made it all the way to division. Now I do contracting. ARPC has (made), in 40 years, a tremendous migration of change, positively."

The people she has worked with over the years has made a major impact on Burroughs; especially those who led the center by focusing on the people, something she considers paramount.

"We've had good commanders," she said. "One of my two favorite commanders was Joseph Ramsey, who went to full bird colonel, and (Major) General (Kevin) Pottinger. They were people persons. They got out on the floor and knew their people. Really knew their people - they knew their names, and not just in uniform - they knew civilians and military. And if they couldn't fix a problem, they'd be honest and say: 'Our hands are tied, but this is what we're going to try to do ...' And I loved the honesty. I loved the loyalty they had to their people."

Now in the twilight years of her career, Burroughs has been reflecting on the more recent changes of ARPC, including its recent move to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., and notices the pros and cons of this next step for the center.

"I like the building, but I personally think it's too small. I do not like having the opportunity for more privacy," Burroughs said. "But it's a good way to see everybody, walk down the aisles, share day-to-day. You could miss somebody in a couple days. Where before somebody could be out for weeks and you wouldn't know that they weren't there. The building's a beautiful building."

Air Reserve Personnel Center will celebrate its 60th anniversary early next year, and will host a series of events commemorating its history