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Handling the announcing duties for the event was Steve Thiele, "The Voice of Fort Benning"...himself a Vietnam Veteran. It was one of his last official announcing jobs before retirement in June.


 By BEN WRIGHT benw@ledger-enquirer.com

After two decades as the voice of Fort Benning, Steve Thiele retired Saturday from his civil service job at the Maneuver Center of Excellence.

"I kind of had mixed emotions," Thiele said Tuesday. "I didn't have a problem with wanting to retire from my civil service job because being the voice of Fort Benning was all volunteer."

Thiele's official job was visual information specialist, designing graphics for training manuals for nearly 30 years. But he's been known as a fixture at hundreds of ceremonies, graduations and other events on post since 1993, using his voice as the narrator. It was not uncommon for Thiele to do six or seven change of commands a year, several dinners, retirements and quarterly breakfasts.

"It wasn't until about 1993 did I start doing some voice-over work for educational television and then that all developed into starting to do the ceremonies," he said. "Units heard me and fell in love with my style. One thing led to another."

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Thiele said he has been using his voice since he announced the news and sports scores during his junior and senior year in high school. "I would announce scores from the day before, whatever it would be, baseball, football or lacrosse," he said. "I would do the news and announce whatever clubs would be meeting."

After high school he was drafted in 1969.

Thiele served with the 108th Aviation Company in Vietnam and left the Fort Benning area after serving almost three years. At the time, he and his wife and two children didn't expect to return to the South.

"I never looked back," he said. "When I left here in 1971 -- when I got out of the service the first time, on active duty -- I took my then wife and said we aren't coming back here. We went back to New York for five years and I learned to never say never."

Thiele has lived in the area since 1976 and now calls Cataula home.

Since he has been the voice of Fort Benning, Thiele said his most interesting event has been the quarterly breakfasts where he can be loose and add some humor. "I don't have to be as formal or regimental," Thiele said. "The focus is not on me and I can make the folks feel relaxed and add some humor to it. People expect it now."

Even in retirement, he plans to continue volunteering for those events.

Thiele recalled one of his most interesting readings from eight years ago at a sexual harassment conference in Mississippi. "We had to read a section on sexual harassment and we were going around the table and I must have been about the eighth person to read," he said. "I read my part and it was pretty graphic and explicit in what it was talking about. I just read it in my usual voice. They were in awe, and I got a standing ovation when I was done. They said, 'this is the best reading. It didn't even sound dirty when you did it.'"

There have been some embarrassing moments, too. At the 2012 Ranger Hall of Fame at McGinnis-Wickam Hall, Thiele said he stumbled while reading the biography of a major general to be inducted. "I was reading his lengthy bio and read the word as he 'neutered' his men," he said. "Then I stopped and I went, 'neutered?' and went, 'how about nurtured?' I took my glasses off and they cracked up. I went over to the two-star general after the event and apologized. He loved it."

Off post, Thiele made a name for himself at local sporting events. He served as public address announcer for the Columbus Mudcats in 1989 and was the English announcer for softball at Golden Park during the 1996 Olympics.

When hockey came to Columbus, Thiele was the announcer for the Columbus Cottonmouths for nearly 10 years and was a fill-in for the Columbus Lions football team.

"If I don't know it, I will learn it," he said. "Just give me a script and a microphone and I'm happy."

Elsie Jackson, a spokeswoman at Fort Benning, said Thiele can't be replaced but officials will be looking for voices in auditions this Saturday.

Thiele said he is open to doing some events on the post. "I'm looking to try and get back to Fort Benning in a different capacity but just to support ceremonies to continue as the voice of Fort Benning."

Reprinted from the Online website of the Ledger-Inquirer, Columbus, Georgia