Civilians stand beside military troops in support of the mission

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. Armstrong
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Each day, thousands of Airmen receive deployment orders. They pack their bags, say goodbye to their families and leave in pursuit of the mission. Their sacrifice is an accepted part of military life, but they're not the only ones who do it.

On a voluntary basis, Tinker civilians from a handful of units are stepping up to serve. One of the latest civilians to join the deploying ranks is John Over, former Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center executive director.

"There are a lot of opportunities for civilians to volunteer over in Iraq and in Afghanistan as well," said Mr. Over, who deploys to Iraq in December. There, he will be the director of the Strategic Logistics Office under the Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training. "For 28 years now, I've worked in the tail of the military establishment. This was an opportunity to get a little closer to the tooth, and up until recently there weren't a lot of opportunities for civilians to serve in this capacity."

As Mr. Over prepares for his year-long tour, he said what makes him the most nervous is the possibility of failure.

"That's probably a bigger concern to me than the physical dangers," he said. "But, I like to think I've been dipped into the logistics and sustainment well fairly deeply. If all of the experiences I've gained here in supply, product support and the exposure I've had in depot maintenance can't help me through this assignment, I don't know what would. This is an opportunity to see if I really know this business."

As it turns out, Mr. Over will not be alone. Randy Mathes from the OC-ALC Plans and Programs Directorate is accompanying him to Iraq and will be working alongside him in the Strategic Logistics office.

Mr. Over and Mr. Mathes follow in the footsteps of Kamal "Kam" Pourrahman, pronounced Pour-rah-man, an electronics engineer with the 38th Cyberspace Engineering Group. Currently in Afghanistan, he has deployed three other times since 2009, for as little as 30 days or as much as six months.

Despite Mr. Pourrahman's Iranian heritage, an advantage that enables him to relay Middle Eastern languages and cultural customs to his peers, he said deployments are not easy and just the tasking to go overseas scare him.

"It's not easy to get in and it's not easy to get out. It's not regular civilian work," said Mr. Pourrahman, pronounced Pour-rah-man.

Mr. Pourrahman said for his civilian peers to get from city to city or base to base, they are at the mercy of his escorts and the host country's regulations. On average, it takes four to five days to get to the base and leaving could take up to 10 days. Additionally, Mr. Pourrahman and his peers may not get pristine accommodations. Given the bare necessities, they stay where they are told and follow the same rules as their military counterparts.

Blending in with military members from various branches, Mr. Pourrahman said he works an average of 88 hours a week to get the job accomplished.

"Being deployed is analogous to being incarcerated in many ways," said Daniel Gulbranson, also an electronics engineer with the 38th CEG. He is currently stationed in Afghanistan and last deployed in October 2001. "You are provided all of the necessities, surrounded by razor wire, elements of danger and after a long day, you walk back a short distance to a humble six-by-eight-foot living space."

Despite the uncertainty, Mr. Pourrahman and Mr. Gulbranson volunteer for a reason.

"We're helping a country become independent," Mr. Pourrahman said. "I do it because it's in my heart. It's not for a medal or an award, which don't mean anything to me. All I'm trying to accomplish is making that country better."

Mr. Gulbranson said he does it to support the military fighting for the greater cause.

"I watched in awe a group of 20-year-old infantry Soldiers all geared up to go on an operation," he said. "These warriors put their lives on the line every day. They trek over mountains and maneuver through labyrinths of insurgent strongholds. Seeing these guys roll out was as inspiring as seeing the Sooners run out onto the field during game day. My priority is to ensure I do my best to support them."

Carla Bove, 448th Supply Chain Management Wing chief of Protocol, said she volunteered a year ago because she felt it was the right thing to do.

"We are all wingmen in this war together," she said. "Not everyone can take the opportunity like I had, but if you can, do it. We have a great country worth fighting for."

From January through May 2009, Ms. Bove accomplished a first in Air Force history.

"I was the first Department of Defense civilian employee in my career field, as a protocol officer, to deploy for an extended tour," she said. "That was pretty awesome and while deployed, I was interviewed by an Air Force historian to be marked in history."

Despite the accolades, Ms. Bove said she faced a tour similar to that of Mr. Pourrahman and Mr. Gulbranson. During her time in Qatar, she lived in tight quarters, blended in with military and worked long hours, recalling that she worked the agendas for roughly 119 visitors in 120 days.

At the end of the day, she said she'd do it again.

"What I learned can't be put in comparison to my 13 years of working here. I learned so much in those four months," she said. "It was an incredible experience and worth it."