DOD Civilians Deploy to Support Warfighters
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Oct. 08, 2019)
Two US generals and other military personnel pose for a photo in 2017 with Afghan service members and DOD civilians, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Pentagon civilian employees are taking a growing support role in foreign operations. (DoD photo)
Putting the right people in the right place at the right time is the Defense Department's talent management goal, the director of DOD's Expeditionary Civilian Program said.

The aim, Howard Ferguson said, is increasing readiness, lethality and reform. That often means men and women in uniform — but not always.

Since the program started in 2009, it has ensured that DOD civilians, who deploy as joint individual augmentees, are placed where they're most needed in a joint-service contingency environment, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Ferguson said. The DOD Expeditionary Civilian mission stems from the department's desire to better prepare and integrate DOD civilian employees into the "total force" to meet future global challenges.

Jenine M. Melton, DOD Expeditionary Civilian program manager, noted that it's not new for civilians to be deployed. The program's predecessor, the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce, did just that, but it was mostly an ad hoc effort, she explained.

The Expeditionary Civilian Program, known as DOD-EC, is much more strategic in its approach, Melton said, explaining how the global force management process works. The requirements for personnel come from the geographic combatant commands, she said.

The Joint Staff's future operations cell then submits the validated civilian requirements to the DOD-EC program office, which determines the number and type of expeditionary civilian personnel that the services and defense agencies must be prepared to provide. Those personnel are matched up with specific DOD components for allocation based on the DOD-EC program office's evaluation of each organization's workforce demographics, sourcing agreements and capabilities.

Most often, civilian employees are selected for the program because they have unique job and skill sets that might not exist in the uniformed services, she said. Jobs include fields such as engineering, logistics, intelligence and others.

Every two years, officials conduct a complete review of the requirements, and figures are adjusted to meet the combatant commands' needs, Melton said.

Once the requirements are established, the services solicit suitable candidates. Once candidates are selected, they don't necessarily deploy immediately. Instead, Melton said, the candidates are placed in a pool, awaiting the needs of a combatant command to support a contingency.

Many service and defense agencies routinely deploy civilian employees as part of their core mission, which is separate from DOD-EC's charter. For instance, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Defense Logistics Agency routinely deploy their own civilian workforce.

DOD-EC is an important part of how DOD reforms the way it does business because it better aligns the civilian and uniformed workforces, Melton said. To make it even more effective, other reforms were necessary, particularly in the areas of policy, guidance and authorities, she added.

For example, the Joint Travel Regulations did not allow civilians to deploy longer than 180 days except to Iraq or Afghanistan. But the regulation was amended to include civilians temporarily assigned to a combat zone, she said.

Also, changes to civilian training and job skills and requirements were made to better align the civilian workforce with the military's needs, Melton said.

A former soldier herself, Melton was deployed to Afghanistan DOD-EC before becoming its program manager.

There are a variety of incentives for people to volunteer for this program, she said. “Some people have never served in the military and want to make a difference,” she explained. “Others have served, but they miss the deployments. Some want the experience of going overseas, and others want the excitement. When you're over there, you see the results. I just loved it.”

Melton noted that she was at first assigned to a six-month tour, but she extended it by six months and then volunteered for another extension, for a total of 18 months.

"I met so many different people who are passionate about the program," she said. "We loved our work. We feel we made a difference."

Melton said it was a great bonding experience, and she's still in contact with a lot of the friends she made. "Serving alongside the warfighter is such a great experience," she said.

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