Personal experience: Why DST is important, why I would do it again

By Amelia Stanko, contracting officer, Supply Operations Commodities Directorate, DLA Aviation

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Many people have asked me why I volunteered to go to Kuwait. Even more have asked me if I was scared.

If I am very honest, the answer is yes. But if I admitted that even to myself, I would not have gone.

So I smiled and said no, of course not. What was there to be scared of? The worst that could happen to me was a paper cut. I was going to be in a very safe environment. And after all, the Kuwaiti people like Americans.

When I started with Defense Logistics Agency, I wanted to learn everything I could about my job and how to do things as efficiently as possible. I soon found that the division of duties and lack of cradle-to-grave opportunities meant I would not be learning everything I had hoped to.

As I was coming to the end of my intern program, I learned about DLA support teams. DSTs are unique teams of volunteers representing DLA by deploying overseas for six months to provide support to the nation’s military personnel downrange.

I got started by interviewing in 2013 with the DLA Aviation Customer Operations Directorate team supporting the DSTs. I was warned that deployment is not easy or pretty. One of the team members told me, “You carry your own weight and then some. Life is sometimes rough, and [even] where we have a decent place to live for six months, you are often called on to do jobs outside your comfort zone.” 

I thought I was a good candidate for deployment. My husband and I shared seven children; six have served in the military, and the seventh married a Navy nuclear-propulsion technician. My husband is retired Army, my brother was a Marine and my father was a tailgunner in World War II. I have been around a lot of military personnel.

By deploying, I thought I could not only get a better idea of what they have lived through, but also become a better employee for DLA by understanding the real needs of the men and women downrange and what they face on a daily basis.

My journey began with a health assessment. Once I passed that hurdle, materiel management contingency training was the next challenge. Having only cursory knowledge of what a customer account specialist does, MMCT was a major challenge. I thought I would be okay in the supply-planner area as my husband served a supply-planner supervisor. (He made for a great resource.) MMCT was a challenge that with a lot of help, I managed to pass.

At that point, I was faced with the reality that this was really going to happen. The closer the day of my deployment got, the more excited and nervous I became. While still working my DLA job I had learned a new skill — one I was excited to embrace.

Then the day came when I left my home in Virginia. I did not know what I was facing. Still excited and scared (but still not admitting it), I was off for processing and collecting my gear. I landed in Texas, processed through Fort Bliss and never gave a thought to death — until I was asked to make a last will and testament. Then and only then did I consider the fact that I might not return. I reassured myself that I had not learned everything I needed to learn and that God was not done with me yet.

I must admit, when I saw all the gear I was going to be carrying with me, I began wondering how I was going to get through this. A city girl, born in Los Angeles, California, raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and now living in Midlothian, Virginia, I had never carried a backpack in my life. I lived for spa days, manicures and pedicures. I lived for creature comforts and liked the finer things in life. I thought briefly that I might have made a mistake. I could have turned back, but I didn’t.

Once the very long flight was over and I was in Kuwait, I was excited and eager to find where I would be living for the next six months. I was staying strong emotionally and convinced I could complete this journey. I was shown my conex (a large metal storage container converted to living quarters). Once the door closed the first time, I admitted I was scared, lonely, tired and wanted to be home. Then I realized, I was home. This was my home for the next six  months. I deployed in January 2015.

Those six months were a serious of ups and downs, hot days and cold nights, early mornings and very late nights. No one can really prepare you for the experience, and no one’s experience is the same. You adjust to the environment, and the world’s political environment every day. You are assigned a job, but your job may change as the needs of the team change. You learn to work with people you have nothing in common with, other than belonging to the same team. I never appreciated email and Skype so much in my life. It was nice knowing friends, family and coworkers didn’t forget me.

My job was to trace spare parts, expedite them and brief command as to status of said parts. I quickly found out about many issues the men and women down range face and I wanted to find solutions. I also learned when giving briefings to include the date of arrival for parts if it was available.

We in procurement are faced with price justifications, over-procurements, backorders and the day-to-day of life at DLA. Downrange, all that matters is, “When am I going to get the parts?"

We care, but at the end of the day we go home here in the states. DST members and the deployed men and women defending our country don’t go home until the mission is complete or their tour of duty is up. Their work allows us the peace of mind to go home and sleep peacefully.

I came home July 26, 2015, with a new respect for what I do, what I have and what I’ve learned. But most of all, I have a greater respect for the men and women who allow us the freedom to do it.

Since being home, I have not gone for a manicure or a pedicure. I admit to the spa day. I have been asked if I would deploy again; I always answer “Yes.”

It has been almost two years since I returned from deployment. I still feel the impact and the awesomeness of the men and women who give so much of themselves and of their lives so that we can live in a peaceful society. As it has been said before, freedom is not free. I am very grateful for the experience.

I would deploy again. It is a very tough job, and it can be stressful, but it is one of the most enlightening things a civilian could ever do.