Army civilian employees apply skills, broaden experience through volunteer deployments
CRANE, Ind. — Department of the Army civilians and other Department of Defense civilian employees across the globe contribute to the total force and help ensure the readiness, capability and capacity of our military forces. Civilian employees at Crane Army Ammunition Activity are no exception — in addition to safely producing, storing, distributing and demilitarizing munitions in south-central Indiana, Crane Army employees routinely volunteer and deploy as members of the Army Expeditionary Civilian Workforce in support of U.S. operations around the world.
The DOD established the Expeditionary Civilian program in 2009 to give its civilian employees the opportunity to apply their knowledge and experience and deploy in support of contingency operations. And while the AECW program offers great benefits: travel, living abroad for six to 12 months, increased pay and career enhancement; the driving factor is most often an opportunity to directly support the warfighter in action.
“We speak all the time about ‘supporting the warfighter,’ but seeing it first-hand brought home how important our contributions are as Army civilians and gave me an even greater appreciation for the organization I work for,” Brett Carroll, a program analyst at Crane Army, said. Carroll participated in the AECW program in 2009 and deployed to Afghanistan to provide administrative support to the 401st Army Field Support Brigade.
“The 401st, among other things, repaired [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected] vehicles that were saving the lives of Americans,” Carroll said. “And l liked the idea of supporting a program and an organization that were providing critical assistance to the men and women fighting on our behalf.”
Deployments offer career broadening experience, often in austere field conditions, at a level and scope that is difficult to match in a non-deployed setting. While DOD civilian employees in the program more directly support national defense strategies alongside their military counterparts, they also gain valuable experience from increased responsibilities and a heightened operational tempo.
Lara Zilafro, a quality assurance manager at Crane Army Ammunition Activity, travels by helicopter from Camp Arifjan to Ali Al Salem Airport in Kuwait while deployed with the Army Expeditionary Civilian Workforce in 2010. Deployments offer career broadening experience, often in austere field conditions, at a level and scope that is difficult to match in a non-deployed setting. While DOD civilian employees in the program more directly support national defense strategies alongside their military counterparts, they also gain valuable experience from increased responsibilities and a heightened operational tempo. (Courtesy photo)
Lara Zilafro, a quality assurance manager in the manufacturing and engineering directorate at Crane Army, participated in the AECW program in 2010 and deployed to Iraq to facilitate the drawdown of Army Materiel Command assets in that country.
“My deployment was a great opportunity to work outside of Crane Army,” Zilafro said. “It was a great chance to broaden my perspective and get a better understanding of the bigger AMC picture and how to work with the higher-level commands.”
“The team I worked with was incredible,” Zilafro said. “It was my first experience with a truly high-functioning team. We were a small group — between 5-10 individuals — and we pulled our weight; we all supported each other and accomplished great things.”
Carroll also enjoyed a rewarding experience working with others during his deployment.
“I enjoyed the heightened responsibilities,” said Carroll. “I ran into people I knew from active service, and there were several other people from Joint Munitions Command, including a couple from Crane Army. I spent a lot of time working with third country nationals and learned to overcome language barriers. And it was gratifying to re-experience the camaraderie that goes with being forward deployed.”
To prepare deployers for the rigors of living in more spartan environments, the Army provides theater specific training that is proportionate to anticipated threats and theater policy. Some locations offer financial incentives such as post differential and danger pay, and weapons training for self-defense, first-aid and equipment familiarization are also provided. But the work can be challenging.
“Sleeping in a tent again was an easy adjustment,” Carroll said. “Doing so immediately adjacent to a busy airstrip was more difficult. Thirteen-hour days, seven days a week was daunting, but you get into a rhythm and the weeks fly by quickly.”
Heather Byrd-Grubbs, a management analyst at Crane Army Ammunition Activity, is preparing to deploy to Kaiserslautern, Germany, in January of 2023 as a participant in the Army Expeditionary Civilian Workforce program where she will volunteer as a Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration chief. The DOD established the AECW program in 2009 to give its civilian employees the opportunity to apply their knowledge and experience in support of contingency operations around the world. (Photo Credit: Solomon Navarro, Crane Army Ammunition Activity Public Affairs)
Today Crane Army employees continue to deploy with the AECW program as a way to broaden their professional experiences and to contribute in a meaningful way in direct support of soldiers. Heather Byrd-Grubbs, a management analyst at Crane Army, plans to deploy in 2023 to Kaiserslautern, Germany to work as a Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration chief where she will have the opportunity to directly support troops deploying further into theater.
“Our mission at Crane Army is to support the warfighter, but we do it so much at a distance that we don’t see the bigger picture,” Byrd-Grubbs said. “Over here [at Crane Army] we’re supporting it, but over there they’re actioning it, and so this is a way that can bridge my knowledge between what I do here and how it is relevant over there.”
Permanent and term Army civilians who are interested in applying for the program may submit the required documents — a resume, recent SF-50 (to verify status), DD214 (if former military) and a signed request for deployment form — through their supervisory chain and human resources department. The Army Expeditionary Civilian Workforce program can be contacted at email@example.com.
By Solomon Navarro, Crane Army Ammunition Activity Public Affairs