Extra money! New experiences! Free professional development! What person does not like to hear these words? In any organization, it is all too easy to get into a rut, but what is someone to do? There is a program that is high-priority for the Army and consequently, if you have a plan to mitigate your temporary absence, can provide positive outcomes to anyone who is selected – the Expeditionary Civilian Workforce (ECW) program.
The ECW program gives Department of the Army Civilians (DACs) with at least an active secret security clearance a unique opportunity to serve in a temporary duty status at locations from Europe to the Middle East and beyond for periods from six months to a year.
It goes without saying that it takes a certain kind of employee to not only work in this environment, but succeed. According to Paul Iliff, Deputy G-6 of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Wiesbaden, Germany, who has helped the ECW program fill IT slots in Europe, “Previous deployments on active duty in OEF or OIF are the best ECW teammates. Those that meet this criteria are solid as a rock and a huge benefit for an organization, not just for DACs, but Soldiers as well.”
In the summer of 2021, two USMEPCOM information technology specialists, Stephen Boyd, from the headquarters J-6 Directorate, and me – Matthew Kiger, IT Specialist, Denver MEPS, were selected for the program. It is worth noting that we both have deployed before, either in the military, with the ECW program or as a contractor, or both.
Assigned to Area Support Group-Balkans in Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, Boyd and I served as IT specialists, with duties similar to those accomplished by IT specialists at MEPS. However, personnel shortages prior to our arrival forced us to accomplish duties far beyond what is expected from a typical unit IT specialist. For example, we both found ourselves building a functioning unit IT program from the ground up and establishing systems so follow-on IT specialists could build upon those.
Additionally, taking a cue from the military’s focus on near-peer competitors and the increasing emphasis on cyber attacks by rogue state actors, we were also tasked with working with Regional Cyber Command-Europe to organize an unannounced phishing exercise against the unit. The intent was to test how well employees recognized a phishing attempt that came across their government e-mails and reinforced the annual training they received during cyber awareness training. We also assumed Sustainment Automation Support Management Office (SASMO) duties, serving as administrators and maintainers of the rotational units’ tactical computer systems, something that was completely outside of our job description.
Taking on extra duties and living in expeditionary environments without our families in Kosovo was not without benefits, however. Since we were working far beyond our normal duties, we averaged four hours of overtime daily and both received post differential at 25% of base pay with locality, which is among the highest rates in the ECW program, starting on our 31st day in the country. Not all expeditionary locations offer the same financial incentives, but they do provide opportunities to do exciting work while supporting our deployed U.S. forces.
Furthermore, while on duty at an ECW assignment, it is also possible to take part in professional development activities. While in Kosovo, USAEUR-AF (U.S. Army Europe-Africa) has a program that, with the supervisor’s approval, allows employees to take part in virtual training and certifications at no cost to the unit, including Security+, Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA), Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).
Needless to say, the program is not for everyone. Even if you have a security clearance, can work long hours, and are ready to be proactive, having an employee come into the program without being honest with themselves will cause problems for everyone. According to Iliff, “Some just don’t understand what ‘expeditionary’ means. This is a deployment, not some temporary duty. Beds are hard (and the) food is not great, but you earn a badge of honor by actually deploying.”
In conclusion, the ECW program has provided Boyd and I with a unique opportunity to make extra money and receive new experiences, all while getting out of the day-to-day grind. If you think this might be a good fit for you and you are ready to try something new, apply to the ECW program and serve on the front lines of America’s foreign policy. For more information, contact the Army’s Expeditionary Civilian Workforce office: