AAFES employee deploys instead of her spouse

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
Oddly, a temporary assignment half way around the world in Southwest Asia is bringing Cathy Talley, an Army and Air Force Exchange Service manager, closer to her husband stationed at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

She is one of the more than 70 AAFES employees who volunteer to spend six months abroad to serve servicemen and women at forward-deployed locations worldwide.

"This was an opportunity to kind of know what the military goes through (serving at rudimentary deployed locations)," said Talley, a 10-year AAFES employee. "Now, I'm more appreciative of what my husband went through when he was deployed."

More than 10 years ago, Master Sgt. Rob Talley was deployed for almost nine months to a forward location in Southwest Asia for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Talley is one of two women who manage the base exchange here. A BX is equivalent to a small department store, which stocks a variety of items like food, toiletries, compact disks, souvenirs and much more.

Rob was already in location when the United States declared war on Iraq in 1991. Cathy spent many nights worrying about him. Compounding her fears, he did not call her until several days later. When he did finally call, he said he could see the Scud missiles going off but he assured her he was not in the line of fire.

It was a stressful time for Cathy who was raising two young girls and working full time. Christina and Theresa are now 17 and 13, respectively.

"When I told my husband I was taking the assignment, he didn't expect it because I'm pretty much a homebody," said Cathy. "Then he said, 'Remember how hard it was for you when I was gone?'"

Cathy insisted that this was something she needed to do for her country, and she reminded him the children pretty much take care of themselves now. Rob gave his blessing, and she left July 28. For the first time, he watched his wife deploy instead of him.

Her taste of life in a war zone started at Fort Benning, Ga. There, she and several fellow AAFES trainees had to be in formation at 6: 30 a.m. They received desert camouflage uniforms, chemical gear including a gas mask, and combat training.

"There is a lot of kick to that little (9 mm) gun," said Cathy. "I kind of knew what I was getting into then. I remember thinking, 'I'm really going to a war zone.'"

Although not the best marksman, Cathy is not worried. She believes everyone has a job to do, and hers is not force protection. It is to support the protectors.

So she quietly pulls her weight along with everyone else in the uncomfortable 100- to 120-degree weather. AAFES managers do not receive any preferential treatment on base. Like the majority of base members, Cathy's living quarters is a 10 foot by 10 foot area surrounded by sheets for privacy. She must walk to and use a shared bathroom like everyone else.

It is a sacrifice that is appreciated by the airmen here.

"Here, if I want a coke, I can get one," said Staff Sgt. Joey Shaffer, from the 90th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. "It's the best deployed BX I've ever seen. It gets resupplied more often, and it's the first time I've seen Americans running the BX, which is nice because you can actually talk to them and they understand what you're saying."

That mutual appreciation is why Talley works more than 10-hour days and goes the extra mile, because here she is more than just an employee working for a corporation. She is part of a team.

"We're all over here for same reason; we're all in it together," Cathy said. "I like being over here and helping. It's my way of thanking the military members for keeping us safe and working so hard."