By Maj. Sheldon Smith, AMC public affairsJuly 16, 2008
The U.S. Army Materiel Command, the Army's largest civilian employer, is home to two men who've made keeping American troops in the fight a family affair.
Robert Blanton, Sr., who works as a HMMWV reset supervisor at Red River Army Depot, Texarkana, Texas, recently returned from a one-year tour in Iraq where he served as the site lead for mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles at Camp Liberty and the director of operations for the new Taji National Maintenance Depot.
The maintenance depot was set up to train the Iraqi Armed Forces on how to repair and maintain their equipment. His work at the depot garnered Blanton, Sr., a Meritorious Civilian Service Award presented by AMC commander Gen. Benjamin S. Griffin in late May.
His son, Robert Blanton, Jr., also works for RRAD as a heavy mobile mechanic on the HMMWV line, and is still serving as an Army civilian MRAP field mechanic in Iraq. Having the father-son team in theater at the same time had benefits that reached back home.
"It was good to have family with me because it helped to ease my mind. It was also a good thing for us to be there together to help ease his mother's mind," said Blanton, Sr.
Although the duo did not work together, they shared the same living quarters. At the end of the day, the two could talk and unwind together.
"We were able to spend evenings together so it made it easier to do what you needed to do each day. It was definitely nice to have someone there with me," said Blanton, Jr.
The Blantons both said they volunteered for their overseas assignments and saw it as a positive experience.
"You are part of something special. It's a way I can give back to the Soldiers who give their lives for us each day. We can give them a vehicle that can help to save their life," said Blanton, Jr.
Blanton, Sr. said military members are often amazed at the expertise of RRAD personnel.
"At first they're curious about what it is we really do," said Blanton, Sr. "Once you tell them 'I'm from Red River Army Depot,' they understand that we're there to help them."
Blaton, Jr. explained that Soldiers in the field appreciate civilians.
"What we do for them blows their mind because we volunteer," said Blanton, Jr. "They're overwhelmed by the amount of work we put in and appreciate what we do."
Many Army civilians face some of the same dangers seen by the uniformed services. Mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and bullets are indiscriminate. But, this father-son team never lost sight of their mission.
"I'll do anything I can to help the Soldiers," said Blanton, Jr. "I can remember working 21 or 22 hours a day just because I could not turn away from what I was doing."
"It's constant change over there so you have to be ready to do anything," said Blanton, Sr. "It's not about a paycheck, it's about helping the Soldiers and Iraqis."
With Blanton, Jr. expected home in December, the father reflects on his tour.
"It was a long year with good and bad times but I think the job we did was worth every minute of it. I sacrificed time from Red River to go over there and I think we are really making a positive impact," he said.