Army civilian deploys overseas

Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity Operations Research Analyst Stephanie Baynes receives the NATO Award at the end of her voluntary six-month civilian deployment to Afghanistan in Dec. 2016. | Courtesy photo

AMSAA analyst calls deployment a life-changing ‘capstone’ of her career

When the opportunity to deploy overseas and assist Soldiers in real-time arose, an operations research analyst with the U.S. Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, or AMSAA, immediately volunteered.

Stephanie Baynes said she had only been working for AMSAA for a few months when she first heard about the opportunity to voluntarily deploy as an Army civilian. With nothing holding her back at home, she decided to apply.

“Everything in my life at the time was just kind of right for it,” Baynes said. “I wanted to serve my country [and] to experience what Soldiers were going through because it would enable me to be a more effective analyst.”

When the call finally came— after months of waiting— to let her know she would be going to Afghanistan, Baynes was elated and ready to join the 401st Army Field Support Battalion.

She spent a week training in Texas, where she was issued ACUs and body armor, and then headed to Afghanistan to begin her civilian mission overseas.

Her assignment would be to analyze data to assist the 401st in operating efficiently and effectively at all times. This mission would include things like analyzing maintenance to find out the cost to maintain coalition vehicles and calculating readiness rates, or how many vehicles were ready to go should a situation occur at any given time.

Despite understandable nerves in a new environment where the stakes are high, Baynes effectively completed her mission and said she really enjoyed her time deployed.

All of the programs she had worked on throughout her career— such as body armor testing and survivability for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles or MRAPs— she got to see in action overseas.

“Usually we’re [stateside], we’re removed from that end piece,” Baynes said. “I got to see the things that I had been working on for the past 10 years… I got to hear all these good stories of how [Soldiers] survived when they are using this equipment. It’s just awesome.”

She also formed a strong bond with her fellow deployed civilian and military counterparts.

“Everyone there is uprooted from all their families and all of you are together daily seven days a week. [You] become family at that point,” Baynes said.

That sense of family was heightened, she said, following a harsh reminder that she was in a war zone.

Baynes had travelled from her home base at Bagram Airfield to attend the U.S. Marine Corps 241st Birthday Ball in November 2016. Her return helicopter flight back to Bagram was delayed after word that a suicide bomber had entered the airfield.

She was relieved to find out that everyone in her inner circle was okay, but horrified to learn that four people were killed and 17 were injured.

The bomber detonated an explosive vest near the starting point for a 5k run taking place in honor of Veteran’s Day— a run that Baynes said she and her friends would have been at, had she not been invited to the Marine Corps ball.

This event changed the whole atmosphere of BAF during Baynes’ deployment. The Afghan nationals who worked on base, doing everything from the cooking to the laundry, were now banned from the installation, and everyone was required to wear full body armor at all times.

Even though the harsh reality of war crept into her time in theater, she said the rest of the experience was something that brought new meaning to her 10-year career supporting the Army.

The experience, she said, allowed her to see the impact of her work, and AMSAA’s vital contribution to the warfighter in a way she couldn’t have imagined.

“This was like a capstone to the past 10 years… because I got to see that things that I [had] been working on. Here it is in action,” she said. “I think working with Soldiers definitely gives us another piece of that puzzle.”

Baynes’ advice to any civilian who is thinking about deploying is to “definitely do it.”

“It’s a rewarding experience, and I think it is life changing… I gained so much more than I gave.”