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In service: with or without the uniform

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Marianique Santos
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Out on the field he dons combat boots, an Airman battle uniform, interceptor body armor, blue baseball cap, and has a beard and a mustache. No, he is not an Airman out of regulations; he is a Department of Defense civilian who chooses to be out on the field with the unit.

"I chose to take part in Exercise Dragon Thunder," said Eric Garcia, an Air Force Engineering Technical Services network integrator. "I push to get the AFETS team in exercises, so we can get integrated with the unit."

Mr. Garcia has been working as a DoD civilian for approximately three years now and has worked with the 644th Combat Communication Squadron for the past ten months. He provides engineering and technical services to the unit.

"There are multiple shops usually working in a communications site, and what we do is figure out how to structure the equipment together for optimum efficiency," said Mr. Garcia. "We also help with training, especially when the unit gets new equipment. We help with solutions in integrating the equipment to what they already have set up."

Senior Master Sgt. Reynaldo Garza, 664 CBCS cyber transport systems flight chief, said that Mr. Garcia is very knowledgeable from his years of experience.

"I've been working with him for seven months now," said Sergeant Garza. "Mr. Garcia has been a lot of help in getting me up to speed in the shop and training the three to five-level Airmen in the unit. He is always willing to share his knowledge, has outstanding work ethic, and is very personable. Being prior enlisted, he has knowledge of the force structure and uses that to interact with the men."

Like the Airmen, Mr. Garcia said that he also relocates for assignments, deploys and takes part in exercises where he does Mission Oriented Protective Posture training and even weapons training depending on the squadron. The only difference is that he wears civilian clothing in the shop. Out on the field, he is wears ABUs, his IBAs and bears arms, if the situation calls for it, just like the Airmen. Exercises like Dragon Thunder give him the opportunity to do all three.

"I really do enjoy the bar- base environment exercises," he continued. "Especially conducting it for a few weeks in between months of being in the shop. A lot of times, you don't get to experience that back at the work center because there's so many things going on, but when you're out in the field, all you have is each other, and that's when you see the entire team come together."

During the exercise, Mr. Garcia also helped out with tasks outside of his responsibilities. He helped break down tents, pack the equipment and worked side by side with the Airmen.
Sergeant Garza said that he would feel more than comfortable working with Mr. Garcia down range.

"I would share a fox hole with him any day," Sergeant Garza said. "He's got a wealth of knowledge in the field and in combat from his military experience."

Mr. Garcia admits that he misses being in the military on occasion, but for the most part he is happy with his decision.

"Ideally, I would have liked to stay the whole 20 years, retire, then transition," he said. "But life doesn't always turn out as planned. As you get older, your priorities change. I definitely appreciate my military experience, and now, being a DoD civilian in a combat squadron, I still get to contribute and be part of it all."

Sergeant Garza said that being a prior noncommissioned officer makes Mr. Garcia effective in communicating and identifying with the younger Airmen, knowledgeable in his career field and prepared to go out with the unit when called upon to do so.

"He's no different than the rest of us," said Sergeant Garza. "He's as gung-ho, and as ready to defend and serve our country. He is indeed valuable to the unit."

Mr. Garcia said that he loves what he does. He plans to be a DoD civilian and be part of combat communications for more years to come.

"I plan to stay in until I have a heart attack in my desk," he said with a chuckle. "Until the time comes that I know that my body can no longer keep up with the younger guys, I'm going to be out there with them."