11
Nov

Civilian Veterans

Grandpa, how come you guys aren't ROCKIN?!

Veterans are cool and it’s cool that there is a day for us to honor them. There is another segment of the population that doesn’t get a day; they don’t get honors or medals, and yet they are as vital as the trigger-pullers to our “freedoms."  I’m one of those tweeners. I happened to be born at a time that let me miss Vietnam by inches and by the time any other shit hit the fan I was too old. I’m a fairly patriotic guy and I feel I served my country, but in a different way. Through the late 70s and early 80s I raised my family by working in construction. I worked for a civilian contractor in North San Diego County. We worked mostly at the Naval Weapons Stations and Camp Pendleton.  During my time there I worked with hundreds of civilians and we built and maintained just about everything on the base in some way or another. We built the houses they lived in, the guard towers they stood in, the bunkers that keep their weapons dry and we installed the systems that keep our country safe. It was a motley crew, a mixed bunch of longhairs in overalls and steel-toed boots. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders and all sorts of support people doing the things that soldiers need not do. They had their jobs and we had ours.  We took it very seriously, most of us. Low bidder or not, we meant business and our crew did some very cool things.

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We installed a 100-foot lightning rod at the ammunition depot during a rainstorm, we installed the gas lines at the weapons station that built and tested our missiles systems, we installed the grandfather of the drone system in a room full of washing machine-sized Sperry Univac computers and I personally welded security grates over the windows of every ammunition bunker in town. It was exciting and scary at the same time. Working at MCTSSA and having the MPs escort you off the base when all the bells and buzzers go off is a little nerve-wracking as they can’t tell and you can’t ask what the hell is going on. I asked them, “What about our tools?” They answered “Your tools are, at the moment, the safest tools on the planet.” I believed them. It is really something to see our systems work, to see the people go from nice Midwestern drinking buddies to the all-business MP with an M16 who politely asks you to drop everything and get in that jeep - and you do it without question from the look in his eye. Next week we’re drinking again in town and it is as if nothing ever happened.

I have worked in places I could never find my way back to, I have been escorted down tunnels and back dirt roads and I have been guarded and watched by the same soldiers as we moved through our job functions in places we shouldn’t have to be.  We did it without a uniform or a cool hat or a gun or a holiday. We keep you safe too, but you’ll never know it. We do it for a lot of reasons. For me it was patriotic and all, but mainly it selfishly fed my family. Now, more than then, I realize how vital we were, how vital the civilian workforce is, always has been, and always will be in keeping us safe and free.

I also hung doors on the housing units where the spouses and children waited for their soldier to come home, or a visit early morning by men with bad news. They don’t have a holiday either, but there is no better motivation for a soldier to get it done and get home.

Thank you, Vets, for your blood and your courage; and thank you, civilian low bidders, for your work ethic and support that allows them to do the hard stuff with good tools, full tummies and the best equipment and intelligence money can buy; and thank you, families of soldiers, for your sacrifice, your pride and your pain.

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