Some people might think that the only way to serve their country is by joining the military. If that were true, then this country, the men and women currently serving, and our national security would be in a world of trouble.
Even though they don't receive much recognition, the fact is civilians have aided military personnel since the late 1770s. Today roughly 700,000 civilians work for the Department of Defense (DOD). The Army alone employs more than 250,000 civilians, making it the DOD's largest federal employer, according to U.S. Army Civilian Personnel On-line.
How do civilians serve without being in the military? According to an article published in the American Forces Press Service in 2000, civilians provide support in jobs that are not military-essential or require the person to go into combat. When military personnel rotate between assignments or get deployed, civilians are there to stabilize the work environment.
Although they don't wear a uniform, carry a gun, or are trained in combat, many civilian workers still put their safety on the line for the sake of their jobs. And sometimes they get to live their dream and do something they love, like Tad Wendler, a welder/fabricator from Olympia, Wash.
In an article published by the Area Support Group Qatar Public Affairs Office, Wendler, 27, said he had high hopes of joining the military, but hip problems prevented him from passing the physical demands of enlisting. Instead he pursued welding and later began dabbling in fabricating off-road vehicles. In February 2009 Wendler accepted a position at General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), Sterling Heights, Mich., a contract firm that builds the Stryker, a series of light-armored combat vehicles.
After surviving what he describes as welding boot camp, Wendler was one of a select group of GDLS welders chosen to live and work at Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar, the only battle damage repair facility capable of performing complete structural overhauls of Stryker vehicles in Southwest Asia.
In a roundabout way, Wendler's dream of serving the military came true. What could be better?
Back in the states, Bob Dawson, director of welding at Ultra Machine & Fabrication Inc., Shelby, N.C., also a veteran, said there is an underlying sense of pride at the company, which specializes in armor plate fabrication for military all-terrain vehicles. That pride might stem from the fact that the company has a heavy veteran population, but for Dawson, it also comes from knowing he is a part of building vehicles that allow military personnel like his son, an Army soldier, to do their jobs more safely.
This Memorial Day when our thoughts go out to those who served or are currently serving this country, let's also remember the citizens who work hard every day to assist the men and women in uniform in their quest to protect the land of the free and the home of the brave.