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Civilians in war zones find ways to stay in touch
During Thanksgiving, not only those serving in the military find themselves halfway across the world in war zones.
A dedicated group of civilians is often embedded with the fighting forces to provide various services, and they too miss their loved ones during the holiday.
Kevin Coulter, who has worked at Yuma Proving Ground for about seven years, was sent to Iraq twice by the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) to support their counter improvised explosives device (IED) effort.
“There is definitely the worker bee kind of guys that are over there deploying outside the gate with the soldiers,” he said. “You do everything they do 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is not a 9-to-5 job.”
ATEC began sending civilians to Iraq as part of the counter IED effort in about 2005. This holiday season will be the first time ATEC will not send a civilian to Iraq from YPG as part of the effort to counter IEDs.
Coulter's first time serving in Iraq with ATEC began in 2007 and ended in 2008, which meant he missed all of the major holidays with his family. He had served in the U.S. Army for 27 years prior to becoming a civilian contractor, but noted being away from his wife and children, who are all grown now, was not any better as a civilian.
“There is no difference. Missing the holidays with your family sucks either way.”
Coulter did his best to keep in contact with his wife, but that was difficult at times because of the sensitive nature of his work. To let her know he was OK, he devised a plan to send photographs of a small silver “frog prince” at various locations in Baghdad, being careful not to reveal his specific location.
“If I took a picture of the frog in a nondescript place and sent that to her via email, she knew that everything was good, I was OK and things were going well. No words were needed.”
In their mission to prevent IEDs from exploding and killing service members on patrol, the civilians were just as much at risk of becoming casualties.
“When we were in areas of proximity to danger, we wore Kevlar helmets and flak jackets,” he said, noting the hostile environment became even more oppressive during the holiday season. “Every day is bad, but holidays are definitely the worst.”
The best method of bringing joy to those in harm's way was through reminders of home, Coulter said.
“One of the big things that really lifted spirits was care packages. The wife would put together little things you miss from home like the candy Whoppers and send it over. It was definitely good.”
A special package sent by a woman at a retirement home in Florida during his winter in Iraq was especially meaningful to Coulter. When he opened the box, he found a hand-knitted black and green cap.
“I wore it just about every day I was over there.” He still wears it to this day. “It has been around the world.”
During his second deployment to Iraq in 2009 and 2010, he received a care package from junior high students in Yuma. It made him thankful to all the people back home who hadn't forgotten about the sacrifices so many make overseas in service to their country.
“It was just little postcards the kids had drawn up and sent over. They didn't know me from Adam, but it was through the support group here at YPG, and those got to me. When you get them, it makes you reflect that there are people on the other side and gives a reason for why we are doing what we are doing.”
This year he is home and able to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
“I appreciate the fact that I am closer to them and I can reach out and just be together with them.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.