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"Emergency Essential" Civilians Face Possible Deployment

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 1996 – Only about 2,000 of DoD's 813,000 civil servants are currently subject to deployment, but that number could grow -- for a number of reasons.

During Desert Storm, 5,000 civilian employees and another 9,000 contractors deployed to the Persian Gulf. For Operation Joint Endeavor, some 1,600 civilians, including contractors, are serving in Bosnia. With the numbers and types of requirements the services are increasingly tasked to meet during contingency operations, the potential is higher than ever for greater civilian involvement.

Civilians are subject to deployment when their positions are designated "emergency essential," according to Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. "This means their skills and abilities are crucial to mission success," she explained.


"Designating civilian employees as emergency essential emphasizes the Total Force nature of DoD involvement," Disney said. "It's recognition that civilians are important members of the DoD team. When faced with crises, we have to recognize that the country has the active duty military, Guard and reserves, civilians and contractors. We need to use the optimal mix of those resources for each situation."


Deploying civilians also frees service members to fight wars, Disney said. "Congress has asked DoD, as much as possible, to convert military infrastructure positions to civilian," she said. "It's well established that civilians perform essential functions within DoD. We know that civilians can keep these functions going while military are engaged in actual combat."


Deployed civilians fall under the same rules as their military counterparts. Before deploying, they must meet similar physical qualifications, obtain security clearances and receive appropriate training. They get the same immunizations and are issued field uniforms and equipment.


If they're going to a potentially hostile area, they will serve there under the same Geneva Convention rules that service members follow. If they desire -- and the theater commander approves -- they'll be trained in the use of firearms and issued a weapon for their personal safety.


Finally, to ensure they get along in a foreign environment, they'll undergo cultural awareness training, just as service members do.


While they are deployed, civilians come under the operational control of the unified combatant commander. They follow the same chain of command as their military counterparts and perform their duties much as they would in a normal work environment.


The DoD goal is to fill all emergency-essential positions with volunteers, Disney said. People hired for such jobs must sign an agreement to deploy if asked to. But downsizing, increasing requirements for deployment or sudden military crises could cause some filled positions to be newly designated as emergency essential. When this happens and the person in the job declines to sign the agreement, a couple of actions may occur.


"We'll find that person a job elsewhere as soon as possible and refill that position," Disney said. "In a crisis, however, it's possible the individual will be required to deploy until somebody with suitable talent and expertise can be found." Or they could resign, of course.


The government evacuates family members of emergency essential employees from hostile areas, as required. In addition, it begins paying deployed employees danger pay as designated by the State Department. Emergency essential employees listed as missing in action or prisoners of war continue to earn full pay and benefits until their status is resolved.


While DoD directives provide overall policy guidelines, each service component decides how and if it will deploy civilian employees. Installation civilian personnel offices can provide more information.

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