By Kelly Francois, OPM-SANGMay 25, 2017
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (May 25, 2017) -- Saying goodbye is nothing new for many military personnel and civilians working on Eskan Village, Saudi Arabia.
Sharon McCluskey, Eskan TRICARE Representative, will depart The Kingdom in the early hours of June 1, after almost 20 years of living and working in Saudi Arabia. In December 1997, Sharon left her well-established career in Public Health to follow her husband, Jim, who had accepted a contract position in Riyadh.
McCluskey took her first year in country to become familiar with her new environment, learn the culture, get to know people in her community and support her husband's new career path. Then, a year later she was ready to hit the workforce again. She accepted a part time position as an administrative clerk at the small Eskan medical clinic, which later turned into a full-time opportunity for her.
Two-and-a-half years later, Eskan established a small TRICARE office, and McCluskey was chosen as the TRICARE representative. "It's been personal to stand up the TRICARE office, and now to leave…it's bittersweet," McCluskey said. "This was my first time working with the military. It's been very interesting, and it has given me an appreciation for what our military does and what they go through," she added.
After nearly two decades in Saudi Arabia, McCluskey worked, at some point, with almost every military, civilian, and retiree stationed in the region, including personnel located in remote areas throughout The Kingdom.
She is a familiar face to the personnel of the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard, or OPM-SANG, and according to officials, without support personnel like McCluskey, they would not be able to perform their critical mission of modernizing SANG and supporting U.S. Central Command requirements.
"The job and the people were the best part of my time here, the culture was interesting, but for me, the focus was on the people I lived and worked with….that's what I will miss the most," McCluskey emphasized.
"We certainly hope that Sharon's positive experience in Saudi Arabia will inspire others to consider working here, whether it be for OPM-SANG, MOI-MAG (Ministry of the Interior-Military Advisory Group) or one of our other partners," George Taylor, OPM-SANG Chief of Staff, stated.
McCluskey always tried to make sure newcomers to Saudi Arabia knew she was there to support them. "When MOI (MOI-MAG) came out and brought such a large group, even down range, I had to make sure they were all taken care of," she said. "I reached out to all the folks downrange just as I do the people on Eskan." McCluskey added.
As a woman living in Saudi Arabia, McCluskey said she has always felt safe and respected. "I won't miss having to wear the abaya, but I never felt any fear when I was off the compound. I felt the people were all very nice and helpful," she said.
"Sharon's absence will be more than missed. Her absence will be mourned," Air Force Master Sergeant Cassel Hall, the new TRICARE representative, said.
McCluskey said, "The reason I stayed as long as I did? I loved my job. I didn't want to leave my job--I liked it that much."
As for her future, she plans to retire and explore her interests in crafts, traveling, and spending time with her three grandchildren.