By Andrew D. Brosig
CAMP GUERNSEY – What started out as an internship will culminate next Monday after more than a quarter century.
Richard Lara of Torrington was in high school in 1973 when he took a class in accounting. As part of that class, students were required to complete an internship, he said. His took him to the Consolidated Support Maintenance office at Camp Guernsey.
“I got to know them well,” Lara said. “I used to drive a colonel around. It was fun.”
He soon found one, with his father Aurelio, working at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company coal mine in tiny Sunrise, where he grew up. His first job was 700 feet below the rolling Wyoming hills, making little rocks out of big rocks, he said, so they would fit through the tines of a grate and fall into transfer cars to haul them from the mine for further processing.
He moved up in the ranks at the CFI Mine, eventually earning the position of chute tender. He watched and loaded the cars that would haul raw coal to the surface. It was an interesting job but, unfortunately, not one that was going to last.
CFI closed the mine, and the town, in the early 1980s, again leaving Lara without a job. He found summer temp work back where it all started, at Camp Guernsey, for two summers, along with working on the Burlington Northern Railroad in Alliance, Neb. But he wanted to do something different, he said.
“As soon as I found out a security guard position was open (at Camp Guernsey), I took a cut in pay, and went to work,” Lara said.
That was around 1988 and he’s never looked back. After two years as a guard, Lara moved to the maintenance department, as a painter for 17 years. He bid up to the job of roads and grounds supervisor, eventually landing his current position about five years ago.
As Facilities and Trades Manager, Lara bosses a crew of about 20 supervisors and is in charge of repair and upkeep on the almost 80,000 acres the camp occupies around Guernsey in Platte County today. His crews are responsible for everything from plumbing and electrical to roads and firebreaks on the camps three training areas.
“If it’s below the ground, above the ground or on the ground,” said Maj. Tyler Schiele, Wyoming National Guard Public Affairs Officer based in Cheyenne. Until recent, Schiele was Lara’s boss in Guernsey.
Rich has a hand in pretty much everything,” Schiele said.
Lara has seen a lot of changes to Camp Guernsey in his 26 years there. He remembers when the command structure at the CSM, where he started out, consisted of three non-commissioned officers and a colonel.
“Now, they have like 30 people in that office,” he said. “That was quite a change.
“I can remember, before we put in the perimeter fence – this is while I was still a security guard – during hunting season, all the deer knew this was a safe (non-hunting) zone,” Lara recalled. “There’d be times there was 100 head of deer on the parade ground, grazing or lying around. We wouldn’t bother them and they wouldn’t bother us.”
Camp Guernsey is one of only five, Level II National Guard training facilities – the largest – in the country, Schiele said. As such, Lara has seen some interesting things during his time there.
“We used to have some unique outfits come through here,” Lara remembered. “This one time, a unit came in – nobody knew they were coming.”
The unit set up shop on post, complete with massive satellite dishes. Eventually, as will happen with equipment, something went awry and Lara was called in to make repairs.
“I figured it was an electrical problem,” he remembers. “I was met at the door by a soldier with his weapon, said, ‘I have to follow you in.’
“We got to the classroom (where the unit had set up shop). The guard yells, ‘Civilian on deck,’ or something like that,” Lara said. “All the books and all the computers – they all immediately closed.”
Lara went on to make his repairs and restore electrical power. Then he was calmly – and in no uncertain terms – escorted back out of the building to continue his day.
“I have never found out what they were doing,” Lara said, with a laugh. “I didn’t want to find out, either.”
And Lara plans to stay busy. He said his wife, Holly – an administrative specialist in the institutional development department at Eastern Wyoming College – already has a list of projects for him. Lara also plays in a band, Code Blue, which he wants to devote more time to.
“Our wives are the ones who gave us the name,” Lara said. “Because we’re all old.”
Lara, at 62, is at the low end of retirement age. But it’s time to step down, he said. But it’s going to be a bitter-sweet parting. One thing he won’t miss, though, is getting up at 5 a.m. to drive through the Wyoming winter weather from Torrington to get to work.
“I’ll miss the job, but it’s time to go,” Lara said. “I’ll miss my crew.”