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Emergency essential civilians strike balance between military, civilian worlds

Released: Feb. 26, 2003

By Staff Sgt. Elaine Aviles
39th Wing Public Affairs

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (USAFENS) -- They may not wear a uniform, endure six weeks of basic training or collect hazardous fire pay, but they are warriors nonetheless.

Unlike the majority of civilian workers who would evacuate or relocate in times of contingency or war, emergency-essential civilians stay and work alongside their military counterparts.

"We receive chemical gear, immunizations, everything the military does (to prepare for an emergency or contingency situation)," said Veronica Hinton, 39th Wing civilian personnel officer. "We participate in exercises and, like the military, we're protected under the Geneva Convention."

As an emergency-essential civilian, Hinton must balance the civilian world with the military.

"I go to the BX during an exercise wearing my web belt, helmet and skirt, and people just stare at me," she said. "I don't think they understand the role we play."

A civilian position is deemed emergency essential when there's no military member available to do the job, or if it's a position that a military person normally wouldn't fill; such as a job in civilian personnel.

In Hinton's case, if there's a war or contingency, among other tasks the civilian personnel flight ensures there are effective procedures in place for the evacuation of non-combatant civilian employees. Flight members will also ensure benefits and entitlements for the workforce, including evacuation, leave and danger pay, are processed and received.

"We also continue taking care of civilians in areas of Turkey that are serviced by Incirlik, and manage the local national workforce working throughout the country," she said.

With so many civilian positions on base, unit commanders are faced with a tough choice - they decide which positions would be vital during a contingency or war, and present recommendations to the wing commander, who is the final approving authority.

Once a position is designated, the civilian is responsible for fulfilling a variety of military requirements, such as chemical warfare protective training, antiterrorism and force protection measures and immunizations.

"If there's a war or contingency, I'll change from oversight to a hands-on manager," said Michael Birriel, an emergency-essential civilian.

As the 39th Services Squadron's business operations flight chief, Birriel is in charge of the club, bowling alley, golf course and veterinarian clinic business accounts.

"A majority of my work force is Turkish, but my facility managers are all American," he said. "If my managers leave, I'll have to ensure my facilities still adhere to U.S. and Air Force regulations."

His workload will greatly increase as the base population increases with transient and TDY troops.

"This may be the only time these troops have to relax," Birriel said. "I'll be making sure they get a good meal and a chance to enjoy themselves. We can't shut everything down because we have less people to help."

Aside from mission requirements, emergency essential civilians face other challenges, many similar to their military co-workers.

Lisa Armes' position as the CPO staffing chief was changed over to emergency essential in November.

"It was a big adjustment," said Armes, who is married to a military member. "When I became an emergency-essential civilian, it had a big impact on my family. Before, I would be the one to leave with our two children if there was an evacuation. Now, since I'd have to stay here, my husband and I had to fill out a family care plan."

Hinton said she relishes the challenges, despite an uncertain future.

"I find this position very rewarding," she said. "There aren't a lot of people in my career field having these types of experiences."

The emergency essential civilian program emphasizes the "one team, one fight" nature of Incirlik, said Maj. Anne Winkler, 39th Mission Support Squadron commander. "It's recognition that civilians are important members of the team and their skills and abilities are crucial to mission success," she said.

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