Derby native serves soldiers in Iraq

By Julie Anderson
Derby News, KS
June 12

Derby native Cindy Garrigan headed to Iraq in February for a tour of duty. But, unlike most, she wasn’t required to go. Garrigan, a Western Iraq loss prevention manager, is a Department of Defense civilian volunteer with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (the Exchange). “This is my way of serving my country and the soldiers love it when we’re over here,” she said.

The Exchange offers food services, gift shops and other amenities to the soldiers stationed overseas. “It makes the soldier’s day to have a little piece of home,” she said, “so I’m just trying to do my part.” She described the Exchange as the mall to the soldiers. They include such things as a Burger King, videos, other name brand fast food restaurants, movie theaters and phone centers. Some even have a spa.

It is a demanding job. “We work from the time we get up to almost the time we go to bed because this is where the soldiers hang out,” she said. “It keeps us busy.” Garrigan also is an OSHA inspector. She covers four bases. There are different conditions on different bases. Some have better living conditions, while others have better food. Garrigan’s home base is a “decent place to live,” she said. “The people are well taken care of,” she said. “Quality of life is pretty decent.”

I’m really enjoying this job. I feel like I’m making a difference. Most of us do here. We see how we can make their day and help them out. A lot of us stay as long as we can.

Of course, it’s always dangerous over there. But that doesn’t deter her. “I’m really enjoying this job,” she said. “I feel like I’m making a difference. Most of us do here. We see how we can make their day and help them out. A lot of us stay as long as we can.”

Of course there are hard times too. “It’s hard to be without your friends and family, but it’s a great job,” Garrigan said. This is her first time in Iraq. She is originally from Derby and her children graduated from Derby High School. Her husband is active duty Air Force. She met him at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. She still has a lot of family in the Wichita area.

To prepare for the trip, Garrigan completed two weeks of intensive training and preparation at the Exchange headquarters in Dallas and the Continental United States Replacement Center. She is only there for six months this time, returning around August, but she can go back. “I can sign up for another tour,” she said, “which I am probably going to do.” Garrigan has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “So this was just in my field,” she said. “I like working for the military.”

The Exchange has been in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the war. “We’re going to be there supporting them (troops),” Lt. David Tomiyama, HQ the Exchange Corporate Communication, said. “Our presence is at every installation. “These (Exchanges) are right there in the middle of Iraq.” The facilities, which Tomiyama describes as kind of a Wal-Mart, are run by all civilian volunteers. Currently, there are more than 400 volunteer Exchange associates deployed in support of Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

“I am really proud of the associates who are doing a magnificent job in deployed locations around the world,” Exchange Commander Maj. Gen. Bill Essex said. “Some of them are working in very austere conditions, but they are doing tremendous work. Every associate who deploys is a true hero in my eyes.”

Garrigan also gets to travel a lot in her position, putting her in more danger. “She’s putting herself in the line of fire like the soldiers are,” Tomiyama said.

To date, nearly 2,000 Exchange civilians have deployed to provide comfort items and necessities in combat and contingency locations. Service members depend on the facilities these associates’ support for day-to-day health and comfort items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, snacks, beverages and entertainment items. The Exchange is a joint command of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force and is directed by a board of directors responsible to the Secretaries of the Army and the Air Force through the Service Chiefs of Staff.

Experiences Downrange

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