Whether providing security in Kabul, Afghanistan, working as a warehouse manager in Kuwait or helping to build a medical clinic in Baghdad, an expeditionary civilian workforce helps the Air Force meet its global mission requirements.
At any one time, there are about 150 Air Force expeditionary civilians deployed at various locations around the world. More than 90 percent of them are in Afghanistan with most serving at Bagram Air Field, the largest military base in the country.
Jason Hogan, a general engineer at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, is one of them. He is currently serving a one-year deployment at Bagram as an electrical engineer.
Last August, he traded the comfy confines of his three bedroom house in Warner Robins for an 8 foot by 12 foot living area in a conex trailer more than 7,400 miles away.
“I have learned the art of getting in and out of vehicles while wearing interceptor body armor and an advanced combat helmet,” joked Hogan.
“Here at Bagram, I’m allowed to do much more than traditional electrical engineering,” he said. “I’ve operated excavators, supervised work crews, given high-level briefings and worked other hands-on taskings. I also get an opportunity to see the aerospace ground equipment I worked on at Robins (AFB) being used here to launch and recover mission sorties.”
Expeditionary civilians serve as logistic specialists, program managers, construction workers, administrative specialists, operations specialists, security personnel, information technology specialists, intelligence experts and much more.
They also serve in the financial arena. About 15 months ago, Melanie Jackson, a financial management specialist at the Pentagon, hopped into her Honda Accord every morning before weaving her way through Washington, D.C., traffic for her daily commute. Today, at Bagram, she dons her body armor and combat helmet before taking a 10-minute walk across a rocky expanse to her job as a budget account manager.
“I was looking to gain experience working not only in a deployed environment but within a joint community as well,” Jackson said. “Without having any military experience, I felt that this was the best way I could contribute to the fight.”
Some civilians have never been part of the military and want to serve, while others have deployed on active duty and miss the experiences and rewards that only a deployment can bring. Most of the assignments are for a year and include up to three 10- to 20- day rest and relaxation periods for going home or traveling.
Jason Montano, an industrial workload specialist at Robins, is about nine months into his one-year tour at Bagram as a real property manager.
“The easiest way to explain this job is by calling it a facility manager for all the buildings controlled by the Army garrison,” Montano said. “When you work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, you have to find a way to get the job done. In the process, you develop strong bonds and friendships. Working together, we’ve fixed roofs, installed stairs and broken down a lot of the older structures.”
Married with four children, Montano said he misses the morning and nighttime routines with his family and would have liked to have seen his son’s final season of high school soccer.
“Even though this has been a growing experience and the extra pay has been nice, my heart is with my family,” he said. “I’m not sure I could have done this without their love and support.”
Earlier this year, the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce program transitioned to the Defense Department Expeditionary Civilian initiative, which allows for clearer visibility of civilian deployment capabilities across the DOD.
“This new initiative provides greater accountability and more effectively supports the combatant commanders’ mission requirements,” said Rusty Nicholson, the Air Force’s DOD-EC program manager at the Air Force Personnel Center.” AFPC plays a central role in this process by serving as a focal point for all deployment issues impacting our civilian deployed Airmen.”
The majority of the DOD-EC opportunities are in the joint environment, which gives Air Force civilians the opportunity to experience operations in diverse, high-tempo mission areas.
“Our AFPC team provides detailed information and supports each Air Force expeditionary civilian,” Nicholson said. “We work closely with teams representing personnel readiness, civilian personnel and unit deployments to ensure Air Force civilian Airmen are fully prepared to deploy and support the mission.”
Nicholson added that deployments can help broaden civilians’ career portfolios while giving them a deeper understanding of the DOD mission.
“When they return, employees bring back a greater understanding of joint operations, enhanced leadership skills and valuable knowledge for their work centers,” Nicholson said.
Although deployments provide a realistic on-the-ground perspective, the hours are often long, the days off are few and, in many cases, the duty assignments are in locations with limited amenities.
“Some days are challenging, but keeping a perspective on your reason for being deployed in the (area of responsibility) helps get you through the tough days,” Jackson said. “Besides being well-prepared, it’s important to have a desire to serve and support our nation, as well as a spirit of adventure and a desire to experience new things.”
Future program enhancements will increase the visibility of deployment locations, duties, etc., for interested Air Force civilians. Visit the Expeditionary Civilian SharePoint site for up-to-date civilian deployment information.
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