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Combat civilians: Managing the airfield

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- It's commonplace for military members to deploy to fight wars in foreign countries during their careers. For most, it's not a matter of 'if,' it's a matter of 'when.' 

Deployment is an integral part of supporting and defending "the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." 

Nowadays, however, it's not only servicemembers who deploy to serve their country; Department of Defense civilians are answering the nation's call as well. 

Oseas "Tony" Mata, 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group airfield manager, deployed from Offutt AFB, is one of those civilians and is serving here side-by-side with Airmen and Soldiers in a combat zone. 

Mr. Mata, who retired from the Air Force in 1991 as a master sergeant after serving 20 years in airfield management in uniform, returned to the career field in 1997 as a civil servant. 

As the airfield manager, Mr. Mata works with Airmen here to ensure the flying environment, airfield and runway, are safe for aircraft arrivals and departures. 

"I'm responsible for managing the entire airfield," Mr. Mata said. "From the runways, to the taxiways, construction projects on the runway, vegetation, anything that impacts the airfield environment." 

All of this is a huge undertaking to service to one of the DOD's busiest airfields. 

"We do more operations here in a month, than most airfields do in a year," Mr. Mata said. "There are about 40,000 operations going on per month at Balad." 

Civilians can't be tasked to deploy like their uniformed comrades, however many, like Mr. Mata, volunteer to temporarily serve in the area of responsibility. 

Mr. Mata said he volunteered for the deployment because an airfield manager was needed here. 

"A lot of the positions are reclama, or short fall, and without the leadership position here, that leaves a big gap because other folks aren't as experienced with the issues we deal with on a day-to-day basis." 

Just like active duty members, Reservists and Guardsmen, Mr. Mata had to be medically cleared to deploy. He also had to complete combat skills training and computer-based training before leaving his home station of Offutt. 

"I have a deployment folder just like everyone else here," Mr. Mata said. 

In a deployed location the line that separates civilians from military members is a little more faint than at home station. 

"I try to assimilate to the active-duty community as much as possible," Mr. Mata said. "When I first got here I had a beard and everything, but being prior service, I felt kind of funny having a beard in uniform." 

Deployed DOD civilians are issued military uniforms to wear while in theater. 

"Being a civilian, it doesn't make any difference, I still have to do the job that's required," Mr. Mata said. "I still have to report to my bosses and use the same standards that the military uses to do business." 

The contributions of civilians are vital to mission accomplishment. 

"Mr.Mata's expertise is unmatched, proving to be an invaluable asset for our squadron," said Maj. Jermaine Vaughns, 332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron director of operations. "We have a lot of young Airmen who have benefited from his leadership and he has proven to be a great mentor to them." 

Just as one of the points on the star of the Air Force symbol represents civilians as part of the service's total force family, civil servants like Mr. Mata are representing the U.S. military and the United States of America with pride. 

"This is real here," Mr. Mata said. "Everything we do here matters."