Honoring Veterans Day: How tough is deployment during employment? Honoring Veterans Day: How tough is deployment during employment?

From Iraq, to Bahrain, to the Fed – employees discuss ups and downs of serving while working From Iraq, to Bahrain, to the Fed – employees discuss ups and downs of serving while working

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November 10, 2021

After Army veteran Greg Longfield returned from his first tour in Iraq, any meeting with colleagues at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that stretched longer than 15 minutes was cause for high anxiety.

In Iraq, he lived in “synchronized randomness:” avoiding daily routines and remaining unpredictable, so enemies wouldn’t spot patterns. That meant leaving the base at different times, taking different routes, meeting at different places, and – critically – ensuring those meetings didn’t last long.

Once a meeting hit 15 minutes, the chances of being ambushed increased with every passing second. If a meeting hit 30 minutes, an attack was inevitable, said the retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.

Even inside the guarded doors of Federal Reserve Plaza in 2007, Longfield, a senior data analyst, felt the stress as the clock moved. 

“After 15 minutes I’d be freaking out. I’d have to leave,” he said. “But I talked to my boss about it, and he was very understanding.”

In honor of Veterans Day this Thursday, two Federal Reserve Bank of Boston employees shared their stories of being deployed while working at the Boston Fed. They discussed their personal experiences serving abroad and how their military service affected their civilian careers – and vice versa.

Despite extreme differences in environments, Longfield said, there is real and beneficial crossover between his military experience and his work at the Boston Fed.

“The military is a very diverse ecosystem,” Longfield said. Despite personal differences, he said, “you’re able to work towards a common goal.” 

Balancing two careers for more than 25 years 

Longfield joined the Boston Fed as a guard in 1988 after six years of active duty as a Marine. The Fed helped pay for his undergraduate and graduate education through its tuition reimbursement program, and he eventually landed his current job. But Longfield stayed in the Army Reserve until 2014 and was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan while working at the Boston Fed.

Throughout his military career, Longfield learned IT skills that proved useful when the Boston Fed decided to launch its first public website and intranet. During his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Longfield led Civil Affairs units, helping war-torn communities plan rebuilding efforts. Occasionally, he’d field phone calls for help from coworkers back in Boston. 

“It does take you away from the warfare for 15 minutes, talking to people you deal with in, I’ll call it, the real world,” he said. 

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Bringing social media skills to the U.S. Navy

Social media coordinator Will Collins’ service began around the time Longfield’s ended. Collins was in Bahrain in March 2020, when the Boston Fed halted in-person operations for most employees, and he worried he might be stuck there indefinitely. Collins, a mass communications specialist first class in the U.S. Navy Reserve, had just arrived at the Persian Gulf island to fulfill several weeks of duty when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  

“We had no idea what was going on,” Collins said. “They were talking about closing the borders.”

He was able to return to the U.S. later that spring and continue work in Corporate Communications that sometimes complemented his military training. Collins served almost five years as an active-duty member of the Navy before joining the Boston Fed in 2019. During active duty, he joined a public affairs command in Japan for two years and continues to work in that field in the reserve. 

“As a photojournalist, I get to see what everyone else does in the military, learn about their jobs, and report on them,” he said. “They also just asked me to start speech writing for the admiral who oversees the 5th Fleet, which is a huge honor.” 

As a member of the reserve, Collins works one weekend a month for the Navy and deploys to Bahrain each year for at least two weeks. There, he covers military activity around the Arabian Peninsula. Last April, he stayed in Bahrain for a month and used skills he learned at the Boston Fed to expand and track the Navy’s social media presence.

“Facebook is a big part of military culture,” Collins said. “I get to take pictures of sailors and publish them to the Facebook page, and their friends and family across the world can see what they’re accomplishing.”

Navigating cultural differences between the Boston Fed and the Navy can be challenging, he said.

“(At the Fed), it’s encouraged to reach out to (supervisors) directly, but in the military, you always stay within the next rank above you until you can get the problem solved,” Collins said. “They are two different worlds.”

Still, he said he finds both careers rewarding: “When I do have those exhausting weekends, at the end of the day I feel like I’m making a difference, and I’m doing my part as a citizen.”

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