Why would civilians go downrange? Not a tough decision, says one

By Cindy Fisher
Stars and Stripes Pacific edition
(Courtesy of The Exchange's PAC PAO MSgt. Donovan Potter)
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa - Servicemembers volunteer to join the military, but from there they go to where they're ordered.

For the 450 civilian Army and Air Force Exchange System employees in 58 locations in Iraq or Afghanistan, the decision to go to a war zone was purely voluntary.

The Exchange employees who go there receive danger pay, overtime pay, pay for going, but that is not their main motivator, some say.

Before becoming The Exchange's Chief of Services in Iraq, 44-year-old Brett Hardin was the Camp Foster Mainstreet Exchange Restaurants and Theater manager on Okinawa.

For the Alabama native, volunteering to deploy last October was all about "supporting the military" downrange, saying it is "the most important mission we have."

He spent a week in military training at Fort Benning, Ga., before deploying. Iraqi cultural awareness, IED recognition and mental preparation for war zone deployment were among the topics, along with becoming familiar with a 9 mm pistol.

Marjorie Granville, a manager at the Kadena Burger King before leaving for Iraq after the Thanksgiving holiday, has twice gone to war zones. She worked in Bosnia from January to July of 2002. "It was not a hard decision to make," she said.

The mother of two said her family supported her decision to re-deploy.

"They are sad to see me leave," but the family celebrated Thanksgiving and were "together in our hearts for the holiday season."

For Erika Pfauntsch, the Kadena main exchange manager, the decision to deploy to Iraq more personal.

"I am an Air Force brat," she said. Her father, a retired chief master sergeant, served two tours in Vietnam.

I know the sacrifices of troops and their families and what the military does everyday to defend our country.

Though this is her first deployment to a war zone, she said she has had her name on the volunteer list since Bosnia.

Neither Pfauntsch nor Granville said they were concerned for their safety, citing confidence in the military's protection.

But American civilians face many of the same dangers as U.S. troops in Iraq.

The first Exchange employee killed in Iraq was 36-year-old Darren Braswell, who volunteered from an Atlanta distribution center, according to the Defense Department.

He was catching a ride from one location to another when the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter he was on crashed in Tel Afar, in northwest Iraq, on the night of Jan. 7, 2006.

U.S. civilians working for the military downrange also have been kidnapped and suffered casualties in attacks and roadside bombs.

Despite the dangers, Hardin, slated to return to Okinawa in April, said he is cautious, not fearful. He said he finds himself missing some of the creature comforts of home, "things we take for granted like indoor flushing toilets," he said.

"Incoming mortars and mud...lots of mud when it rains," also must be endured, he added.

"Remaining vigilant and not forgetting that we are in a war zone doesn't allow me to dwell on being frightened."

Experiences Downrange

These stories represent a sampling of the more than 4,500 deployees and their experiences downrange. If you are a deployee and would like to add your deployment history, please contact us.

Faces of Deployment

The Faces of Deployees

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