By Jon Micheal Connor, Army Public AffairsApril 15, 2019
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The Army's top civilian responsible for deployed civilian personnel recently visited to update the workforce and address deployment concerns.
Yanir Hill, chief, Benefits, Compensation & Deployments, Office of the assistant G-1 for Civilian Personnel, said in an interview after a town hall meeting here that the main purpose of her visit was to keep communication lines open, face-to-face, with deployed civilians.
Hill has been an Army civilian for 25 years of experience working in Joint/Unified Commands, as well as Army Commands, in both the operations and personnel functional areas. She has been in her current position almost two years, after completing an assignment as director of Civilian Personnel for Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe.
"There's many challenges; there are many questions," Hill said, "especially with newly deployed personnel. It's transitioning [them] from a stable, normal environment to a combat zone … it's a big change for many of them."
Many federal civilians are deployed through the Expeditionary Civilian Workforce program, which offers them the opportunity to work alongside military forces in support of contingency operations throughout the world. Civilians bring a skill set and an expertise not readily available in uniformed services. Patrick Shanahan, acting Secretary of Defense, has said civilians are a "force multiplier, offering commanders options…"
Pay is always a topic that is raised by deployed personnel, Hill said. Concerns include getting paid correctly based on the various entitlements, as there are many documents that need to be filled out correctly.
"This visit is simply and opportunity for us to engage with the civilian workforce supporting contingency operations and an opportunity for them to bring their questions and concerns directly to us," she said of the town halls.
Another concern raised during the town hall was the ongoing negotiations between Allied Forces and the Taliban that have been highlighted in various news outlets. As negotiations progress, there is uncertainty as to the restructuring of deployed forces, both military and civilian.
"We're totally committed and engaged with civilians here as we either grow or reduce our size," Hill said.
As part of that commitment, a reception, staging, onward movement and integration team is being established to receive "all" Army civilians coming in to Afghanistan. While many Army civilians often do have sponsors to assist prior to and their actual arrival in country, this team offers a more personalized support to the deployed personnel.
By the time civilian deployers arrive in theater, they are already in contact with the team and know how to reach out for assistance. The team has been well received and effective that the Office of Secretary Defense requested the Army offer the support to all deployed civilian personnel regardless of service component or force provider.
The RSOI team is based in Bagram but will soon open a support cell in Kuwait. Other organizations such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Defense Logistics Agency, among others, currently manage their incoming personnel separately. Though they will continue their current process, they will coordinate and share information with the RSOI team for accountability purposes.
"The beauty is we started it for [Army] civilians and now we've been asked to take over for all the service in order to have accountability," she said. "We are moving in the right direction."
Additionally, Individual Military Augmentees -- civilians who are activated for deployments based on being a member of the Reserve or National Guard -- are also being looked at to report to this RSOI team.
"We move units extremely well but sometimes it is a little more challenging to track individual augmentees. This is one of the things the RSOI team will help with," Hill said. "We need to show where everybody is at all times … to track better. The name of the game for this is accountability."
Ideally, the RSOI team would start communicating with the deployer about a month before arrival. Hill said the team is not a substitute for a sponsor but rater complements one.
As of now, the plan is to ultimately have 12 people on the team at Bagram Airfield, and four more people in Kuwait.
Another concern voiced at the town halls is extensions. With the uncertainty of when there will be an official announcement regarding a reduction in military personnel in Afghanistan, Hill advised civilians not to make rash decisions on whether they intend to extend or not.
"Do not make any decisions because there is no decision made yet," she said. "Are we going to reduce in size here? Probably … tomorrow, six months, next year, we don't know. So one thing we are telling them (civilians) is don't jump to conclusions."
Hill said a lot of people do want to extend but civilians need to follow the correct procedure for requesting extensions. "Extensions are not driven by the employee, they are driven by the mission and management," she said.
Employees must discuss with their in-theater supervisor and express their desire to extend if needed. In-theater organizations must complete the proper procedure and submit requests through USFOR-A J-1 (Personnel).
Extension and/or re-mission requests start with the organization, go through USFOR-A J-1, then to the Force Provider and then to home station, Hill said, adding that it is not a short, quick process. The request must start early and must be driven by mission needs.
Assuming a position still needs to be backfilled, Hill said her office is responsible for finding replacements.
"There is money to be saved by extending but the thing is, you have to extend in time," she said. "I'm recruiting because I'm mandated to fill that" position.
For example, if a civilian is on a 12-month deployment, the in-theater organization should request an extension at the six-month point of the tour, Hill said. At that point, her office is getting ready to commit offers to back-fills. If a person is identified, offered and has accepted to deploy as a backfill, Hill said her office will not rescind their offer to accept a late extension request.
The golden rule for every civilian, she said, is: "You own your career. You're responsible for your career."
The civilian workforce is in theater to support the Soldier, she said. Civilians need to ask themselves "How can I help this (the mission) move forward?"
It's important, she said, that civilians understand that every action they do, every mission they complete, is in support of the green suiters. "Somewhere along the line we (civilians) forgot that we are here to support the guy in the green suit. We need to get back to that."
Another possible change coming is the training time alloted at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where those deployed through the ECW program go to receive their pre-deployment training for two weeks.
The goal in the change is to make the training more efficient and cost effective, which could result in reduced training time possibly to about one week, Hill said.
Currently, there is a team looking at the training at Camp Atterbury, the requirements established by the combatant commanders, the needs of the personnel deployed, etc. Previous town halls and surveys from deployers indicated a dissatisfaction with the length of the training stating that many classes were not necessary.
For example, the requirement of everyone qualifying with an M-9 pistol didn't make sense as most civilians would not be carrying a weapon in theater because their position did not require it, she said.
"Unless your position requires a weapon, why are we qualifying everybody?" Hill rhetorically asked.
Though familiarizing civilians with a weapon may be an OK idea, the time required and cost involved is not necessary unless the person is required to be armed. In the ECW program, the vast majority of deployed personnel are assigned to positions that do not require a weapon. Just this change alone will save three days of training, she said.
Classes like nutritional eating, for example, would be eliminated as well as workers compensation, Hill said, adding civilians are already taught those classes back at one's home station.
What exactly will be dropped is not completely known, she said, adding "that is a moving target right now."
Taxes too are a popular issue.
"Why do we not get tax breaks on pay while deployed?" Hill said deployers frequently ask.
Currently, there is a document that has been submitted by U.S. Army Central that could result in a legislative proposal being introduced to grant civilian employees the same tax breaks as contractors.
If such a proposal was submitted and approved, the change would bring some parity to all deployed personnel -- whether uniformed, civilian or contractor. While there's been discussion on this before, that's all there's been, Hill said, adding that it is a long process to get changed.