A number of St. Thomas graduates are on active duty in Iraq and other locations of conflict around the world. Find out more about living in a war zone by submitting a question to Dane Franta '04 and Andrea (Lloyd) Buckley '03. The "Ask an Airman" question form is at the bottom of this page.
Q&A w/ Dane G. Franta '04, Air Force and Andrea (Lloyd) Buckley '03
Why did you join the military? (Rhonda N.)
Dane Franta: I believe in participating in something larger than myself - working toward a greater good. When I was younger, I wanted to fly. That dream changed, but throughout my time at UST I built some very strong friendships with people who share the same values I do. Now, it's become about making a strong, positive impact where-ever I am able to by using the leadership skills, values, morals and knowledge I have gained throughout life.
Andrea (Lloyd) Buckley: I joined the military because I wanted the opportunity to go to college after high school, but I couldn’t afford it on my own. The Air Force offered me a scholarship to attend the University of St. Thomas and earn my accounting degree in exchange for completing the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program and serving 4 years on active duty. I felt comfortable joining the military because I had family members serve in the Air Force, Army and Navy, and so I felt I had a little bit more of an idea of what I was signing up for.
Let me preface my question by telling you it's not meant to be judgmental; I'm genuinely curious: How do Christians in military service rectify their religious beliefs with what's asked of them as service people? I just can't get past the fifth commandment. How do you? (Pat S.)
DF: Not everyone on a daily basis has to struggle with this potential moral battle. For example, I wear a weapon every day, and the Air Force gave me more than enough ammunition for it; however, the likelihood of me having to use deadly force is quite small. Not to say it cannot happen, but it has not yet and I cannot say at this point how I would react afterward. I have been trained to protect myself - the same if not better than many gun owners in America. We are trained on many levels to de-escalate a situation, and to avoid using deadly force. I pray that I do not have to skirt around any commandments.
AB: I’m assuming you’re talking about Exodus 20:13, “thou shalt not kill,” and I can only speak for myself when answering this question. My role as a contracting officer is to support the mission and those on the front lines. I’ve never been required to serve in direct combat hostilities, yet I’m trained to use deadly force if necessary to defend myself. I don’t know that anyone can answer this question until they are faced with the situation because you don’t know how it will affect you.
How do you cope with the extreme temperatures? (Patricia P.)
DF: Suck it up, that's about it. When it's hot outside I try to remain inside, as we do have A/C. Or, I limit my outdoor time. You sweat a lot and try to drink water. The bummer, for me, is trying to run outside. Even at 11 pm it's more than 100 degrees, so that means a lot of early morning workouts when it's only about 80 degrees.
AB: In the summer, temperatures in Baghdad can reach up into the 120s. The sun is relentless and it is always dusty. I cope by coming into work early in the morning and going home late at night. I try to limit my time outdoors in the middle of the day and am constantly drinking water to avoid dehydration. I’m lucky that my job allows me to work indoors where it is air-conditioned the majority of the time. However, if you do have to work outside and wear your body armor, you’ll sweat through every layer of clothing you’re wearing and then some. All you can do is take frequent breaks and drink a lot of water.
What has surprised you the most about being in a war zone? (Brian B.)
DF: A few things. 1) The comfort-level. I thought it would be rougher conditions, but it's pretty nice. 2) The amount of DOD civilians that have volunteered to deploy with the military. That is amazing and awe-inspiring. 3) The quality of news being reported back home verses what really happens or has happened.
AB: In the International Zone (aka the Green Zone) in Baghdad, I have been surprised to see how many civilians are working along side the military. In addition to Department of Defense civilian employees that have volunteered to work here, the Department of State has many employees that are working to establish the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. There also are a large number of civilian contractors supporting the military mission by providing food service, transportation, laundry services and base security.
Have you met or worked with many local citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan? If so, what has been you impression of them?
DF: On a few occasions I've met some Iraqis. They are very friendly, always smiling, and very interesting to talk with. I've met ex-pats who are now translators and a few locals that have been here their entire lives, and they are extremely knowledgeable about American business practices. There's also a "Good Neighbor" program that's run on base here. Local children from ages 5-14 come to do some activities. Volunteers get together and teach the kids crafts, play soccer or read books. It's a great time and very rewarding to see kids laugh, smile & play.
AB: As a contracting officer, it is my job to buy services, supplies and construction work from local vendors. In Afghanistan, I worked with local citizens on a daily basis and we had two Afghan interpreters working in our office. Here in Iraq, I’m dealing with larger dollar contracts and thus, larger contractors, mostly American or foreign; however, we still have local Iraqi citizens that work with us every day. My impression of individuals from both countries is that most of them are a lot like us. They are working to provide for their families, give their children a better life and for opportunities for jobs, education, medical care, etc.
Have you been able to get a sense of the Iraqi culture while you have been in Baghdad? Are there things you have found in Iraqi culture that you have been able to enjoy? (Jacob C.)
DF: I have had some training prior to deploying as well as experiences over here that have given me a taste of the culture. In the interactions I have had here I enjoy the local nationals' general pleasant attitudes and demeanors. I think that is something to take away, immediate friendliness and respect to anyone. Not to say Americans do not show respect but it is more noticeable to me with people I have met in my time here.
AB: Because of the security conditions of Baghdad, I never leave the base; however, we do have a lot of local Iraqis that work on the base, including in our office. A few of these individuals have been working with the Americans since 2003, so they are very comfortable with us and will tell us about their lives. For example, one of the guys I work with got married about a year ago and he and his wife are now expecting their first child. Not too different from the average American couple, except that they live with his parents and all of his siblings and their spouses and children all in one house, because of tradition and economic necessity.
My favorite thing I’ve found so far is Iraqi bread called samon (pronounced “samoon”), which one of the local workers brings every morning, fresh from the baker. Also, bazaars are held every Friday throughout the base where vendors come in to sell locally-made rugs, jewelry, scarves and trinkets. Other than that, we are fairly sheltered from Iraqi culture, but we are exposed to the other cultures from the variety of Coalition troops and civilian contractors working here as well.
Thank you for serving, Dane. When did you first become interested in serving in the military? What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job responsibilities in Iraq? (Linda L.)
DF: I believe I was about 12 when I first thought about the military. I was able to comprehend a little more about how my grandfather had served in WWII and how my uncle was in the Air Force at the time. I formed my own sense of duty, and from there it followed into high school when during my junior year I enlisted to join the Air Force upon graduation. However, my plans changed the follow fall when I applied and received an ROTC scholarship. The most challenging part about doing my job is trying to find a balance between getting involved, helping out, doing the tasks that are explicitly my sole responsibility and finding some down time to re-charge. It's the same work-life balance that I am sure everyone goes through - it's just in a different environment. Though I must say I love it when I get asked questions or looked to for answers or action. How great is that when someone else wants your opinion, subject matter expertise, or advice?
A very wise lady I know reminded me of a Colin Powell quote, "The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them." That to me is the rewarding part, working with other people to help them out with their questions and problems. On a smaller scale, I look at the projects and requirements that I fund and track, and I see the impact on soldiers' abilities to carry out their mission or things that help strengthen the Iraqi economy. Those things provide more than ample motivation to carry on.
Thank you for serving, Andrea: What training in the Air Force did you have to prepare for an assignment as "contract negotiator?" Have you found cultural barriers/insights in working with Afghan vendors? (Linda L.)
AB: The Air Force has provided training through the Defense Acquisition University, where I’ve earned my Level II certification in Contracting through online and in-residence classes and will work to get my Level III when I return to the United States. These classes include cost analysis/negotiations, legal considerations, deployed contracting and mission support planning, to name a few. Additionally, the Air Force requires those in the contracting career field to have at least 24 undergraduate credit hours in business and many years of experience to receive their certifications. Finally, we have regular training sessions within our units that address different contracting topics and keep us informed of new policies and procedures.
In my training prior to my deployment, we were taught that female contracting officers sometimes ran into difficulties dealing with local vendors in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the different cultural views in regard to women. However, when I deployed to Afghanistan in 2006, the American military had already been there for almost 5 years and I found that a majority of the local vendors (all men) were now accustom to and willing to work with females. But I was aware of this cultural difference anytime I worked with a new vendor. In terms of insights from working with Afghan vendors, I learned that everything is up for negotiation and to never agree to the vendor’s first price quote. Any time I negotiated with a vendor for any supply, service or construction project, it was like buying a car in the United States. Their first price was never their best price because they expected you to haggle with them for a lower cost. I also learned that Afghan vendors preferred to talk casually and sometimes drink tea before discussing business. It was very different from America where we expect to get right down to business in a meeting.
How do you sleep after witnessing some of the things you’ve seen? (Jennifer W.)
DF: I sleep perfectly fine. I do not think I have witnessed some of the things you are asking about. I will surmise about what you may be asking.
Life is not perfect, there are good times and there are bad times. Either way the world keeps on turning and you have to get up the next day and do it all again. The fact is that life here and now is generally, across the board better than it has been in a long time ... if not ever. Just like any other aspect in life you have to be able to take away something positive or else risk end up in a funk and have a bad attitude about things.
AB: I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t seen direct combat or anyone be injured.
Tell us some of the news that is real but that we don't hear back home. And thank you so much for all that you are doing for those of us back home. You are in my prayers. (Julie K.)
DF: Some news, maybe not explicitly heard back stateside. How about the recent Washington Post article on the Commander's Emergency Response Program funds? The article starts off in a somewhat pejorative tone about what tax dollars have been spent on. Depending on how you read it, you can easily gloss over what I see as the striving point of this program. "You can't shoot yourself out of an insurgency," said Marine Col. John A. Koenig, "A rifle only gets you so far. It shows you have some force. CERP allows you to develop our answer to al-Qaeda."This is exactly the point. This program covers leaps and bounds with the local populous. The article points out funding spent on various items, but the thing that is quickly forgotten is that is exactly what al-Qaeda (or as the article mentions Hezbollah in Lebanon) would do if given the opportunity. No we are not trying to buy their love, we are trying to provide them the opportunity for success. If we can help them in small instances here and there its less for them to focus on in the short term. Additionally, they are less worried about meeting basic survival needs. Filling those needs they are afforded the opportunity to progress
Another example I'll give is the recent highlighting of the deaths of U.S. personnel by electrocution or fires. Watching the news it can seem like nothing is being done but on the ground, on site, I can tell you we have been cracking this nut for months now. The delay in progress has been finding the true source of the problem. I can report that the task force setup to resolve electrical problems has come up with a solution.Hopefully, the solution will fit the needs and the chances of electrical malfunctions resulting in fires or electrical shock will be no longer in existence.
Finally, I will take a shot about talking about troop withdrawl. While timelines and dates have failed in U.S. Congress, the Department of Defense is not standing idly by waiting for direction entirely. DoD, in-theater and across the globe, have been driving to turn over responsibility to the Government of Iraq. Not always is progress as fast as everyone would hope and concessions have to be made on both sides of the issue but in general the DoD is positioning itself for a reduced footprint now and projected more so by next summer.
Maybe those were things you already knew but in my view those issues and more are not always seemingly accurately portrayed in American news reports.
AB: Well, I know that when I was home, the only news I would hear on Iraq was about the most recent car bombing, the amount of money we’re spending here and possible timelines for withdrawal. I heard nothing positive, other than the occasional, 30-second story of the good work we’re doing in Iraq.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve found that we are working hard to improve the security situation in Iraq and to promote long-term stability in addition to defeating insurgents. We’re not only trying to rebuild the country in terms of infrastructure, government and virtually all other areas, but we are also trying to teach and empower the Iraqi people to continue this work when we’re gone. We’re providing subject matter experts to advise on areas such as agriculture, economics, utility services, urban planning/infrastructure and business development. We are providing training to local citizens for carpentry, medical care and computer skills to help them create a livelihood for themselves.
We have Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that are focusing on governance, economics, infrastructure, rule of law and public diplomacy in the more remote parts of Iraq. These teams are made up of the Department of Defense (the military) and a multitude of other government agencies such as the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all working with local Iraqi leaders to rebuild the country.
Unlike wars of the past, we are simultaneously fighting the enemy and working to rebuild the country, but it seems that the national media would rather focus on the negatives.
Dane G. Franta '04, Air Force
Hometown: Spring Valley, Wisc.
Military Rank: Captain
Background: I have been serving in the Air Force since July 2004. Currently, I am deployed as a financial management officer for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) Budget Execution office at Camp Victory, Baghdad in Iraq. I support the Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) units to insure funding of initiatives as developed by the Commanding General (General David E. Petraeus), his staff and organizational elements. Duties include managing proper recording and accounting of between $40-75 million of monthly military funding. Projects include funding for reconstruction and development of basic infrastructure elements (water, power, sewer, etc).
I work with a team that is helping Iraq's government setup a procurement process. At the same time, I work on funding projects for supporting the military personnel based in the Iraqi theater. This includes squaring away funding for projects, such as temporary housing, food service, morale, welfare and recreation. I also work with contracting officers like Capt. Buckley (see below) and my MNF-I project owners to insure contracts are being awarded, services and goods are being delivered and vendors are being paid in a timely fashion.
I deployed from the Pentagon, where I had been a cost analyst for the Air Force Cost Analysis Agency since June 2007. There, I performed analysis of historical expenses incurred specific to the Air Force Flying Hour Program and military Permanent Change of Station program. The analysis I performed led to the development of the fiscal year 2010 budget submissions to be presented to the Air Force corporate structure and eventually to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Prior to the Pentagon, I worked at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as the budget officer for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
Andrea (Lloyd) Buckley '03, Air Force
Hometown: Cleveland, Minn.
Degree: Business Administration - Accounting Military
Background: I have been serving on active duty in the United States Air Force for five years. I was recently stationed at Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City, Utah, and now serve in the International Zone (formerly the Green Zone) in Baghdad, Iraq.
I am a contract negotiator working in Europe on the A-10 Depot Maintenance contract, which aims to upgrade and maintain aircraft used in the war.
In 2006, I was deployed to Afghanistan as a contingency contracting officer working with the Army. My job was to provide war-fighter support with the acquisition of supplies, services and construction projects for all bases and troops in the region, including Air Force, Army, Navy and coalition forces. Duties involved working with a variety of customers and local Afghan vendors on a daily basis to purchase items, such as generators, new buildings, concrete barriers and heavy equipment.