Belvoir Exchange Employee on Second Deployment in Iraq

Melina Rodriguez, Staff writer
The Eagle, Ft. Belvoir
(Courtesy of the Exchange's Ft. PAR Lew Hood)
December 14

Running a movie theater, wearing a Kevlar helmet and meeting people from all over the world are all in a day’s work for Fort Belvoir’s Steven Okolovitch, who is currently deployed to Iraq for the second time as an Army & Air Force Exchange Service employee.

Okolovitch manages a movie theater on a military base in Balad, Iraq, that previously belonged to Saddam Hussein. He works with contract employees from India and other countries to run a Subway, Anthony’s Pizza and a snack bar located in the same building as the movie theater.

"I am a military brat," said Okolovitch, in an e-mail correspondence. "My father is still in the Army. We have been stationed overseas in Germany most of my life. The military has always taken care of me; so I feel by doing this, I can give something back and help provide a little comfort to the Soldiers while they are away from their families.

"I see some of the things that they have to go through when outside of the [military base] and this is the least that they deserve. One day I may be in the military myself and I know that I would love to have these kinds of morale activities if I was deployed."

Okolovitch was also deployed to Iraq for six months at the beginning of 2006, when he performed the same job.

There are no typical days for Okolovitch. "Every day is different. I could be occupied with ordering, or a truck arriving, getting badges for my workers, helping out in other facilities, or [setting up sound and lighting equipment in the theater]," he said.

I see some of the things that they have to go through when outside of the [military base] and this is the least that they deserve.

So far several bands have come to the base and later in December American Idol winner Carrie Underwood will perform at the theater.

In the past, movies would typically be released at the theater about two weeks after their release in the States, but for December, five movies will be shown on the same date as their release here.

Okolovitch works with employees of various nationalities at the theater, but the majority is from India. The Exchange contracts with a company in Kuwait to provide staff for their facilities in Iraq.

"The workers here have such a different culture than we do in the U.S.," said Okolovitch. "They dress differently and eat totally different foods than most Americans."

Before going to Iraq, Okolovitch had to undergo extensive trainings and screenings. He left Fort Belvoir on July 9 and didn’t arrive in Balad until Aug. 7.

He underwent contingency operations training in Dallas, Texas and went to the CONUS Readiness Center in Fort Bliss, Texas where he was issued military equipment, went through medical screenings and took care of legal concerns like wills and power of attorney.

Okolovitch recently submitted the paperwork for a three-month extension, to return home at the end of April. He was previously scheduled to return on Jan. 30.

"The most interesting thing for me is the Soldiers," he said. "That is why I came over. I love to interact with the Soldiers, hear their backgrounds and the jobs that they have to do over here."

Okolovitch already has plans for what to do after his return. He received an acceptance letter several days ago to attend Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"It has always been a dream of mine to attend that college, and maybe one day become a pilot," he said. "I am also currently working on getting an Air Force scholarship."

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