By John B. SnyderNovember 26, 2013
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Nov. 26, 2013) -- There was a term the former Third Army commander, Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb, often used to describe the Army civilian force that supported the ground operations in many of the 25 countries in his area of responsibility.
He said in his Third Army commander's column in April 2006 that, "My purpose today is to voice my support and appreciation for our 'Soldiers-in-Slacks.' You have heard me use that term since I took command of Third Army to refer to our civilian work force, both our DOD civilians as well as our contractors. These men and women don't usually get the same recognition as our uniformed service members so I want to recognize their value to what we do as a team and point out some facts about their service."
Whitcomb went on to say that America has never fought a war like this one (Iraq), where the enemy is nowhere and everywhere. It is a war without a front, where the burdens and sacrifice of combat are shared by military and civilian alike.
In a small Army post in upstate New York, the Watervliet Arsenal has also had its share of Soldiers-in-Slacks. Although they don't receive the fanfare from the community when they deploy that one would find for a unit deployment, they nevertheless deploy with the same sense of pride and dedication to our country.
Robert "Bob" Spetla is one of the arsenal's most recent Soldier-in-Slacks.
Bob, who is a Veteran of the U.S. Navy, graduated from the arsenal's apprentice program in 1986 and eventually left the arsenal in 1989. For nearly 16 years he worked in the medical manufacturing industry but said that he had always longed for a return to the Army's arsenal.
In 2005, Bob got his wish and began work as a quality control inspector for the arsenal's operations directorate. Then, in 2007, Bob was offered a job in the Army's Benét Laboratories as an engineering technician where he has since worked in the breech fatigue lab.
But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, Bob's sense of duty was pulling him to join the fight.
"I don't know if it was my former service in the Navy or just a sense that I wanted to be a part of something bigger that pushed me to volunteer to deploy," Bob said. "Nevertheless, I thought daily about my making a difference in a war zone until an opportunity arose for me to answer my call to duty."
In October 2012, Bob saw a job announcement for a mechanical engineering technician who was needed in Afghanistan. He immediately signed up, then deployed to Afghanistan in November of that year for a six-month deployment as part of a team of U.S. Army civilian engineers with the mission to develop field-expedient solutions for Soldiers.
"We had quite an operation set up at the Bagram airbase," Bob said. "Whatever the Soldiers needed, we had an opportunity to fabricate the products that either made the Soldiers more survivable or improved their quality of life."
Bob said he and his team of six fabricated such things as sniper screens to IED protection systems to brackets for night vision devices.
"It was all about helping the Soldier wherever we could to make a difference," Bob added.
Bob returned home in April of this year more proud of his service and with a better perspective of just how important the work is that the Watervliet Arsenal performs to support the warfighter.
Robert Spetla well represents all Watervliet Arsenal "Soldiers-in-Slacks" who have deployed and is very deserving to be called this month's arsenal's Face of Strength. He has proven that the burdens and sacrifice of combat are shared by the military and arsenal civilians alike…just as Whitcomb described.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army owned and operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th year of continuous service to the nation on July 14, 2013.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.
Benét Laboratories is a Department of the Army research, development and engineering facility located at the Watervliet Arsenal. It is a part of the Weapons & Software Engineering Center (WSEC) that is within the Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC), located at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.