Department of Army Civilians crucial to counter-IED fight in Afghanistan
September 23, 2010
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - After 24-years in the military, nothing would surprise Rod Mathews, chief of future operations at the Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) in Grafenwoehr, Germany. He wasn't even surprised to find himself in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, dressed in full-battle-rattle again, after his military retirement. You see, Mathews volunteered to participate in the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce program.
In January 2009, a Department of Defense (DoD) Directive established a subset of the DoD civilian workforce to be created, organized, trained, and equipped to perform jobs that fulfill operational requirements downrange. Mathews was the first U.S. Army civilian employee of U.S. Army Europe to participate. He left for Afghanistan July 7, and returned exactly one-year later.
"I figured, why not' The way I saw it was it was an opportunity to directly support the war effort. We support it here at JMTC by training Soldiers, but I think you lose the bubble on what's going on downrange really quick," said Mathews, "I think it is important that we try to maintain visibility or situational awareness on what's going on downrange, especially in our jobs. We're supposed to be the ones developing and supporting the training."
In theater, Mathews was a civilian tactical exploitation specialist assigned to a Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, and directly supported the 1-4 infantry, JMTC's forward-deployed unit, based out of Hohenfels, Germany, at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center.
Since 2006, the 1-4 has regularly deployed to Afghanistan with the Romanian Land Forces (ROULF) sending a company-size unit, during each International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) rotation.
"I was able to support my own unit when I was down there, which to me was an honor," he said. "Many of the men I conducted missions with I had known and worked with for a few years from my work at JMTC."
The Navy EOD team would render the devices safe, so Mathews could collect, preserve, exploit, classify, and process the evidence.
"While the device was being rendered safe, my responsibility was ensuring the EOD team's security. So, I would coordinate with the unit that had either called it in or our QRF and make sure they had a good cordon around the EOD team," he said. "After it was over-with, I would lead the search for forensic evidence."
Mathews said, he really respects the Navy EOD.
"These guys are some extremely competent, brave- men. They are rendering safe 50-to-200 pounds, or more, of unstable, home-made explosives for us to get the forensics off it; they're taking this dangerous step of rendering it safe, when really they could just blow it up. They accepted so much risk to make-sure we could get the evidence off of these IEDs," he said.
That's the only way the good guys are distinguished from the bad guys, Mathews said.