It was the efforts of Wanda Lyles and her co-workers at the Anniston Chemical Activity that ensured those weapons never fulfilled their purpose. With the agency's mission completed as of Tuesday, Lyles has no doubt as to how it succeeded.
"From start to finish, it was teamwork, helping each other," said Lyles, of Anniston. "It gives me a sense of pride that I was a part of it."
Lyles, who retired in 2011 after 17 years, was one of more than 50 retired and current Anniston Chemical Activity employees and officials who attended the closing ceremony of the agency Tuesday at Anniston Army Depot. The ceremony included the retiring of the agency's flag, a gesture symbolizing the closure.
Beginning with its organization at the depot in 1995, the agency was responsible for storing 7 percent of the nation's chemical weapons stockpile. It later was also responsible for moving those 661,529 nerve and mustard gas agent weapons to the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility until the last one was incinerated in 2011. The agency has undertaken closing efforts ever since, including cleaning equipment and facilities.
"This is truly a historic mark for our nation," said Col. Darryl Briggs, director of stockpile operations for the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity in Maryland, who spoke at the ceremony.
Briggs agreed with Lyles that the agency owes its success to the people who worked there. At one point, more than 170 people worked for the agency.
"It's not about numbers and statistics, it's about the people ... the people who lead it, the people who performed," Briggs said. "Despite a decreasing number of employees, they continued to support closing operations."
Also during the ceremony, Jesse Brown, civilian executive director for the agency, received a commander's award for civilian service. Brown also spoke highly of the agency's workforce at the event.
"Our dedicated workforce can be very proud of this accomplishment, but also of their attitude and work ethic as they worked themselves out of a job," Brown said.
Al Rosser of Heflin now works at the depot, but in the previous 20 years he was chief of the toxic equipment branch for Anniston Chemical Activity, providing all the protective clothing, boots and gloves to the agency workers.
"It's bittersweet, but it’s the best organization I ever worked for," Rosser said of the closure. "It was a true team and family environment and it took that kind of environment ... working together to get things done."
While the agency is done with its mission and technically closed, a few more tasks lie ahead during the next few months before the shutdown is finished, said Mike Abrams, a U.S. Army spokesman.
"We still have some equipment to turn over to the depot or other federal agencies and literally close out the fiscal books," Abrams said.
Abrams said fewer than 40 workers will continue the final closing efforts, some of whom are retiring while others will be finding other jobs.
"And we'll have a small group of five people through the last week of September to literally close the books and turn out the lights," Abrams said.
With the agency closed, demolition crews are scheduled to start razing the incinerator in September, Abrams said. That demolition is expected to last through the summer of 2014. There are still more than 400 employees working at the incinerator.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.