|By Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff
When she first started working at then-Camp McCoy in May 1962 as a
telephone switchboard operator, she only planned to work three years to
help support the Family finances.
More than 50 years later Janet Anderson is still going strong with no
immediate plans to hang up her telephone or retire any time soon.
Camp McCoy telephone operators work at the new six-position
switchboard circa 1967. Janet Anderson is seated second from the
right. The other people from left to right were: Dotti Kling,
Alyce Wahl, Lorayne Denter, Doris Gallup, Eleanor Wiggins and
Clarice Buttton (standing). More than 30,000 calls a day were
placed through the Camp McCoy Communication Center in 1967.
(Fort McCoy historical photo)
Actually, Anderson did retire once. She originally had been hired as
a federal civilian employee, but when the work was transferred to a
contractor in 1989, she retired from federal service.
“I always like to tell people I stayed retired for about one day and
couldn’t fathom it so I came back to work for the contractor,” Anderson
said. “Since then five other contractors have taken over providing the
service, and they’ve all rehired me and kept me on.”
Craig Dittmar, the site manager and her current supervisor, said
Anderson has been a steady, reliable employee who is hardworking and is
pleasant to be around.
“It’s not easy to work the midnight shift like she does,” Dittmar said.
“But she enjoys it and handles many of the troop morale calls at that
None of that was on Anderson’s mind in May 1962. She and her husband had
returned to the area from Janesville. He was looking to get his business
established, and Anderson said they decided she would work only
temporarily to support the Family finances.
An aunt noticed a job announcement for a telephone operator. Anderson
had worked for Bell for about two-and-a-half years so she decided to
Back in those days, the position was for three months a year when the
troops were training. McCoy then went back to a skeleton crew for the
rest of the year.
Anderson said it was an ideal schedule because it allowed her extended
Family to help with her children over school break and she could be with
her Family the rest of the year. The Department of Defense gave her
credit for working the entire year, which was good for retirement.
Anderson also made additional money to support her Family and kept her
skills sharp by filling in during vacations by personnel working for the
Norwalk telephone company.
Janet Anderson, a Fort McCoy telephone operator who is beginning
her 51st year of service at the installation, provides
telephonic assistance to a customer.
(Photo by Rob Schuette)
“In those days, the troops that came to McCoy went straight to the
field,” Anderson said. “They used mag lines to communicate from the
At that time, Camp McCoy didn’t have a direct-dial system, so
everything, including calls to other locations on post, went straight to
the switchboard where the operators connected them to the parties they
were calling, Anderson said. A new switchboard installed in 1969 allowed
installation employees to directly call each other.
“I remember the 1,100 numbers were up high so I had to stand on a ramp
to patch in the cords,” Anderson said. “It’s amazing how it has
Advances in computers and technology have made those systems relics of
history, Anderson said. Today’s operators provide directory assistance,
take troop morale calls and assist callers in finding the correct
“It’s a lot easier finding someone in the computer listing than it was
using a Rolodex system,” Anderson said. “The technology has been the
biggest change during my time here.”
Donna Whitehead, a telephone switchboard operator who has 45 years of
experience at McCoy herself, said Anderson brings a sense of calm and
reassurance to her duties. A good sense of humor also helps make work
“We’ve been close friends for years,” Whitehead said. “I would be lost
Many of Anderson’s recollections over the years — she’s worked at the
installation for almost half of its 103-year history — revolve around
people and not events.
Good coworkers, supervisors and commanders have made Fort McCoy a good
place to be and work at, she said.
The events that stand out include a July 27, 1970 bombing at the main
telephone exchange and the Cuban Resettlement Center mission from May to
Anderson said she arrived later in the day in July 1970 when the main
telephone exchange was bombed. She did not witness the event firsthand
but saw the horrific aftermath, which included a lot of damage to the
facility. The more-senior staff member on duty took the call, which came
from a pay phone, and told the less-experienced operator to get out and
warn everyone. The senior staff member remained at her post and called
in the emergency. Fortunately, the bomb detonated later than expected so
no one was hurt.
The Cubans were fenced in and confined to an area of post, but they were
the roughest people she had ever seen and caused a lot of trouble.
Anderson said there were many fights.
Many of Anderson’s recollections center on how beautiful Fort McCoy and
the surrounding areas are.
The most frustrating calls she receives are from Family members trying
to reach people training at the installation. Sometimes, the
servicemembers don’t give them enough information to contact them in
times of an emergency. In that case, the operators do the best they can
do, Anderson said.
“She knows her job well,” Dittmar said. “She’s seen a lot of changes and
has had to change with the times.”
Anderson said being in the communications industry seems to run in the
Her brother works in television and has been a general manager/president
for several television stations. A first cousin is a radio announcer at
a La Crosse radio station.
“We all are ‘people persons,’” Anderson said. “I guess that gene just
got passed onto all of us.”