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Tinker civilian serves in SW Asia for 2 years

Former Tinker AFB employee Randy Mathes in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, as he assists in the operational standup of the first Afghan security battalion his NATO task force helped establish. (Courtesy photo)

Former Tinker AFB employee Randy Mathes in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, as he assists in the operational standup of the first Afghan security battalion his NATO task force helped establish. (Courtesy photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A Tinker Air Force Base civilian employee has been voluntarily deployed in Southwest Asia for the past two years through the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce program.

Randy Mathes deployed to Iraq in 2010-11, then volunteered for deployment to Afghanistan in 2012-13. The Air Force CEW program manager "mentioned that I was the 48th person from the Air Force to deploy via this program, and the first civilian from Tinker to deploy for a full year (now two years)," Mr. Mathes wrote recently.

"Spending the last 24 months in two different Areas of Responsibility has been an outstanding experience for me," Mr. Mathes said. "Working alongside the warfighter in a combat zone and in a joint and coalition environment, has made me a better military logistician and program manager. I had studied joint doctrine in Air command and Staff College, how the five Services work together as one team. But being a part of that team in a deployed environment really put it in perspective for me."

Mr. Mathes previously worked in the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, Plans and Programs Directorate as Chief of Enterprise Transformation, leading the Strategic Planning Division and the Mission Control Center.

The seed of his interest in the CEW program was planted in early 2010, when he learned that DOD civilians were serving in Southwest Asia, "I was determined to find a way to serve at the front of what we do," he said.

Several months later, John Over, former executive director of the OC-ALC, asked Mr. Mathes if he would like to accompany him to Iraq for a one-year deployment via the CEW program. In Iraq, Mr. Mathes served as the executive program manager of logistics doctrine and education development, and directed the U.S. support program to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

General Lloyd J. Austin III, Commander, United States Forces-Iraq, Operation New Dawn, in a letter to the Secretary of Defense, recognized the success achieved by Mr. Mathes and his team as a "first of its kind and a significant step forward in developing logistics sustainment as a discipline and creating a professional logistics capability within Iraqi Security Forces."

After he completed his one-year tour in Iraq, "I wanted the opportunity to serve in Afghanistan, too," Mr. Mathes recalled. "So, with OC-ALC senior leadership approval, I volunteered with CEW for an additional year."

In Afghanistan he is the strategic planning lead and assistant deputy director of operations for the Afghanistan Public Protection Force Advisory Group, NATO Training Mission. "My job is to provide strategic planning and implementation oversight at the Ministerial level for establishing and deploying an Afghan security force of 40,000 personnel across the country, to provide security for static sites and convoy operations."

Spending two years working seven days a week in combat zones, "with a price on your head, can be incredibly demanding," Mr. Mathes said. "But in that environment you build character and friendships that will last a lifetime."

He said that before he deployed he was grateful to be an American. "But now there really are no words to express how truly thankful I am to have been born in the U.S., and how determined I am to help preserve our way of life," Mr. Mathes said.

"When you see the insane hatred of terrorism firsthand, and the devastation it causes, it becomes very clear that it has to be stopped. Seeing the brutality that our enemies have inflicted on innocents, and seeing the poverty that people live with in places like Afghanistan, has changed me."

Being able to call home and hear the voices of his wife and three sons on the telephone, as well as emailing and R&R opportunities, "help remind me that I still have a life back home," he said. Nonetheless, "Being 10,000 miles and several time zones away from home is the most challenging part of a deployment."

Mr. Mathes is scheduled to return to Tinker in about a month, and after a few weeks' leave he will start a one-year Air Force Fellowship at RAND Corp. in California, assisting the think tank on Air Force research projects.

Mr. Mathes, 53, was raised in Ardmore. He earned a bachelor's degree in manufacturing technology at East Central University in Ada; attended the Air Command and Staff College in 2005; received a master's degree in aerospace administration from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2007; and underwent Combat Airman Skills Training at Fort Dix, N.J., and at Camp Bullis, Texas.