By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2010 – After 33 years of service as a government civilian, Barbara Eberly easily could have called it a day. She could have let her career wind down and looked ahead to ticking off the peaceful days in her small-town home in Pennsylvania.
Instead, the 58-year-old volunteered to serve in Iraq. The decision, she said, was met with a combination of shock and awe.
“While my family and friends were supportive, they … initially thought I was crazy to want to do this,” she said.
But Eberly had all her wits about her when she signed up to deploy. For 22 years she had watched her daughter’s Navy career unfold from the sidelines, offering unfailing support as her daughter headed out to sea for long periods of time or to new assignments across the nation. Her daughter, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Heather Kline, retires this month after a career that took her from enlisted to officer, from ship to recruiting office.
And Eberly patiently waited for her own adventure to begin.
“My mother always wanted to join the military, but she was a young mother and then became a single mom, so the opportunity didn’t arise for her,” Kline said.
That is, until now. Eberly, a mobilization planning specialist for Defense Logistics Agency Distribution in New Cumberland, Pa., learned about civilian deployment opportunities through a co-worker, who had deployed through the Defense Department’s Civilian Expeditionary Workforce program. The program trains and equips civilians to deploy overseas in support of military members and missions worldwide.
Eberly was hooked. She’d always wanted to deploy, she said, and figured this could be a chance to put her civilian environmental safety experience to good use.
Her supervisor, Sue Alpaugh, backed her immediately.
“When the [Civilian Expeditionary Workforce] light bulb went off for Barb giving her this great opportunity of a lifetime, she immediately signed up,” she said. “For me, even though we miss Barb in the office and what she brought to the table every day, I am glad for her that she punched her ticket before she retires.”
While her co-workers offered immediate support, her family and friends, concerned for her welfare, questioned her decision and ability to take on the task at her age.
“I was kind of shocked she wanted to do this so late in the game, so close to retirement,” her son, Michael Eberly, said. But age isn’t a number to Eberly, it’s a state of mind.
“Of course I did have reservations about, ‘Will I really be able to do this?’” she said. “But I’ve always learned that it’s not age or gender that stops a person from finishing a tough challenge. It’s a lack of will.”
Despite initial reservations, her long-time partner, Mike Miles, gave his seal of approval.
“She’d been wanting to do something out of the ordinary,” he said. “She’s always done anything she can to support the country and the military. I told her, ‘Go ahead and do it. Have an adventure.’”
“She’s always been a go-getter,” added her mother, 84-year-old Bertha Henry, who has been known to brag about her daughter at Bingo nights. “I’m proud of her.”
After attending a two-week predeployment training for civilians at the Camp Atterbury National Deployment Center in central Indiana, Eberly flew to Iraq to support the 199th Garrison Command public works department on Camp Victory. She now wakes up each morning, not to the cool, lush landscape of the Northeast, but to the austere scenery and sweltering heat of the desert.
“U.S. citizens should count their blessings every day for their freedom,” she said. “As the saying goes, ‘You’re not in Kansas anymore.’”
Although pushing 60, Eberly handles the hefty protective gear and physical demands her job requires without a problem. She’s learned to “pack light or carry a heavy load,” she explained.
And to ease her loved ones’ minds, she stays in constant contact with her family back home, who have grown accustomed in time to the idea of her deployment.
“I love sharing the story,” Kline said. “I still get raised eyebrows and ‘Did you say your Mom is deployed?’
“But I’m extremely proud of her,” she added. “If anything happened to her I’d be crushed, but proud of her sacrifice. She’s willing to put herself where others wouldn’t. I love that about her.”
As for Eberly, she’s determined to live each day of her yearlong deployment to the fullest.
“I wanted the opportunity to walk in a warfighter’s shoes, and now I’m doing things most civilians only dream about,” she said. “I’m truly looking forward to it being one of the most awesome experiences of my life.”