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Why I Serve: DLA Employee Not Afraid to Take Risk for Country

By Marcia Klein
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT BELVOIR, Va., Oct. 27, 2004 – "With Sept. 11, I really felt violated when the Pentagon was attacked. I [had] worked there for several years, and I took it personally," said Maurice Stewart, a DoD civilian employee deployed to Kuwait.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Maurice Stewart checks out a pallet that arrived at the Theater Distribution Center, in Camp Doha, Kuwait. Stewart, a DoD civilian, volunteered to deploy to the U.S. Central Command Distribution Deployment Center in Kuwait, and has been there almost six months, assigned as the deputy chief of sustainment. His stateside duty station is at Defense Logistics Agency headquarters, Fort Belvoir, Va. Courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Stewart's life changed with a throw of the dice when he was 9 years old. Today he is taking another gamble his duties in Kuwait include frequent trips into Iraq and to the Horn of Africa. He volunteered to go, he said, because his country gave him opportunities, and he believes it's his duty to give back.

"I wanted to do something and made up my mind right then that, when given the opportunity, I was going to volunteer. The Defense Department has been a pillar of my life. It provided me a good career. It has helped educate me," the 47-year-old Stewart said during a late-night phone interview recently from his office at the U.S. Central Command Deployment Distribution Center in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

"Basically this is my way of helping with the war on terrorism and giving back to the government what they've provided to me," he said. "The 26 years that I've put in doing this business has been to support the forces when they are deployed and protecting the United States and now fighting this war. So you know, it's part of my duty."

Stewart is the deputy chief of sustainment in the CENTCOM DDOC, a partnership between the Defense Logistics Agency and U.S. Transportation Command. In Kuwait he works to improve the distribution and visibility of supplies for troops serving there and in Iraq.

Stewart might not be serving his country today if he hadn't been lifted out of a harmful, potentially deadly lifestyle at the age of 9 by a virtual stranger. He was on his knees in the dirt of a playground, shooting dice with other neighborhood kids, when a man stopped and talked to him. The man, Fred Saunders, only knew Stewart as a kid who had been cut during Little League tryouts two weeks earlier.

"He just said, 'Hey, I've got four children and I just want to offer you a place to come and call home if you want, and I'll treat you just like I treat my own children. And you'll know there's nothing I wouldn't do for you that I wouldn't do for them,'" Stewart said.

That reads like a Frank Capra film script, but it's not fiction. Without Fred Saunders, Maurice Stewart might have ended up like many of his classmates from the tough Youngstown, Ohio, neighborhood he grew up in -- dead or in prison.

Saunders never said why he took Stewart under his wing, but it was a life-changing moment for a young boy left by his mother at six months of age with an elderly couple not related to him.

"(Saunders) and I have been thick as thieves, as they say, from that point to now. Everywhere I've been, he's been there. Even before I left to come over here, he came down and spent a week with me, and he's 75 years old. So he's my dad, and I wouldn't replace him for anything," Stewart said.

He says the experience of his early years were part of the reason he wasn't afraid to volunteer to deploy into a war zone.

"I grew up in a tough environment. I don't worry about that," he said, adding that he understood going in that he had to keep his vigilance up. "You know the type of environment that you're in, okay? My vigilance is up in Kuwait and Camp Arifjan and the surrounding area. When I go up north, I'm even more aware of my surroundings, so this is what I expect. I didn't expect to come over here and let my guard down and when things get tough, crawl in the corner. That's not my makeup."

Stewart said he has experienced some interesting things during the almost six months of his deployment: the midnight mortar attack that shook the portable bathroom he was in, the 15-inch, brown "sand" lizards that like to share his tent, the "tactical landing" the plane made as he traveled north to help out in Balad, Iraq.

"We were on a C-130, and a week prior a young man had gotten shot getting off the plane at the airfield. So when they land, engines stay running. We had flak jackets on, helmets on. They drop down the cargo ramp, you run out and run to the truck and go," he said calmly. "So, that was different."

Stewart's job back home at the Defense Logistics Agency headquarters on Fort Belvoir involves helping establish and communicate DoD's policy for "automated information technology" in such areas as radio frequency identification tags, bar codes and unique identifier codes. In Kuwait, Iraq and surrounding regions, he helps train military, government civilians and contractors in using that policy and related processes to be able to accurately track and document supply shipments.

"I'm sharing, from the policy perspective, how things are supposed to work and helping show them how to write the (RFID) tags (that help track supplies) with the right level of content detail for the materials that are being shipped. We're going from policy to 'boots on the ground,'" he said. "We're just assisting them with some of the things they haven't seen yet because some of this (doctrine and policy) is so new that it's not in all the military services schoolhouses yet."

Although the living there isn't easy, Stewart said he gets up every morning ready to go to work. "I tell you what, the folks (here) come from all the military services, TRANSCOM and DLA, and the people here are great. The leadership is top-notch. So when you're in an environment like this, and you've got good leadership and good co-workers and colleagues, it makes getting the job done easy. I mean, it's a challenge, but I come in every morning and I'm energetic."

That doesn't mean he won't be ready to return to his wife and daughter, who turned 12 while he was away. He said they both supported his decision to deploy to help the troops, and they exchange e- mails daily. Stewart said he explained to his daughter that he was going to help get the troops the support and supplies they needed.

His daughter "says she's doing her part on her end in school and gymnastics and she expects me to do my part on this end," Stewart said. "She wrote me, 'Dad, I know it's hot, it's tough, you work long hours, but I expect you to do good and represent the Stewarts.'"

He laughed quietly. "So you can imagine if you're over here and your kid is talking that way it kind of motivates you. You can't do anything but come over here and do well."

(Marcia Klein is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Public Affairs, DLA Headquarters, Fort Belvoir, Va.)

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