Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wayne Tanner in Afghanistan

With his cotton slacks, golf shirt, tennis shoes and baseball cap, Wayne Tanner is dressed like he is on any given day. Some days he might be wearing less, like on the day in Kandahar, Afghanistan where the temperature was 154 degrees Fahrenheit. So though his work outfit sounds comfortable, Mr. Tanner can attest, you’d be “dry, dusty, and miserable” in that weather. To make matters more fun, the days’ work involved repairs of overheating power generators.

For over a year Mr. Tanner has been employed as Facilities Director for AC First, a company based in Fort Worth, Texas. AC First is under contract at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan to service military vehicles. And it’s here where Tanner is assigned. Tanner is responsible for maintenance of the housing units which accommodate over 2700 people. He also is responsible for upkeep of offices, shops, warehouses, the post office and rec center. He does the same job at Kandahar Air Field. His dorm is also located on the Air Field. Close by are parked the F-16’s and F-15’s. You can guess how often Tanner uses earplugs to sleep at night.

If he ever has trouble falling asleep, he could simply wander on base to the DFAC, or dining facility, for the midnight meal. The buffet offers an array of main course items, vegetables, potatoes, salads, drinks and desserts. If a full stomach still doesn’t knock him out, he might stroll back to his CHU. CHU is the acronym of the unsettling name of “containerized housing unit.” At the CHU, if his roommate is not using the shared bathroom, Tanner could relax with a warm shower that provides hot water “most of the time.”

Showers are necessary for the 3000 personnel on base. Tanner says, “The constant onslaught of dust here seems to never end.” I remember hanging out with Mr. Tanner’s son in Mesa, AZ during high school. I once asked Zach, his son, why there was a one-gallon bottle of lotion in the basement. Zach said his dad used it after work. That made me wonder if Jergens sells five gallon bottles of lotion, and if so, I’m sending one to Zach’s dad.

But back to Mr. Tanner’s shower. In all likelihood, he has never had a midnight meal on base or a midnight shower to relax. The labors of the day are a powerful Ambien. However, the sun never catches him asleep in Afghanistan. He is up by 5am on most days.

Tanner is up early because he likes a sunrise. He says the price is right for them. And it’s a heavy price to pay to give up precious sleep. Here is how he describes the work:

"We have regular preventative maintenance schedules on equipment that needs to be serviced and maintained, as well as work orders and taskers, which are work requests by the various companies and personnel residing on the AMC Compound. We keep track of hours spent on each project and report on the number of work orders and taskers completed. The job challenge is very high. It is a most difficult work environment in which to maintain good attitudes and the work demand is extreme. The stress level is high and my biggest demand is people management. I like to work with people and the time goes fast because of the constant workload. It is interesting to balance my Facilities Management job with mychurch responsibilities. It is a great combination of challenges that I find rewarding and interesting to manage. Afghanistan is one of the most remote places on earth. The logistics of supply demand is extreme and we use a tremendous amount of materials and supplies. These items either must be flown in or trucked up thru Pakistan. Three (3) to six (6) months is a reasonable expectation of delivery times under ideal conditions. Accurate long range planning is essential. Stress related personnel issues are high on the list. Fighting or the use of alcohol or other drugs are all reasons for termination and a quick trip back to the states. Because of the extreme work demand life is accelerated here by, in my estimation, 3 to 4 times normal. This, in turn, increases all the typical personnel issues by the same factor. There is never a time when all the problems are solved when there is not something to do. One does not get bored."

Tanner does this work 12.5 hours a day, seven days a week. Every two weeks he gets a half-day to attend to personal duties. In his case, those duties revolve around his other assignment as Branch President for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So much for his personal time. I struggle if I don’t get my hour-long lunch break or thirty minutes of Seinfeld every night. When asked what he would do with free time in Afghanistan, he says he would read. What would he read? The Journal of Discourses or The John Tanner Family History Genealogy Book.

Speaking of church, it’s is a little different in Afghanistan. Located in an old Russian-style concrete building, the “visitors welcome” sign defies the architecture. But the building is a blessing, where lessons of the Plan of Salvation would probably have a more immediate and necessary impact.

Tanner has counted a total of two ties ever being worn to church. Women wear jeans. The clothing speaks to the fact that most people here live life without options. There is no closet at home where they can pull out Sunday attire. You do the task at hand with what you have.

Most churchgoers are soldiers and the first thing they do upon arrival is place their weapons on racks along the wall. At his first Priesthood lesson, Tanner was instructed by a man with an automatic weapon strapped to his back.

For Tanner, the work in Bagram is not the doldrums. “Many people here view their duty assignment simply as a time to get thru, and get back home, as quickly as possible. My viewpoint is different. There is not a time or period in your life that is not of import. If you aren't making progress in your eternal commitment to improve yourself, then you are regressing.” The work, both church and as Facilities Director has no limitations as to service and demands. “It is like eternal progression,” he says, “when do you arrive?”

Tanner has made some interesting observations in Afghanistan. If he has a say he would stop paying people not to work. While he concedes some honestly need assistance, being part of a public dole destroys self-esteem. As to government, Tanner has seen a shift away from important values. “The more we deviate from the Constitution, the faster we will lose our freedoms and our way of life. The Constitution was divinely inspired and it outlines best how our Heavenly Father would have us live.”

Speaking of religion, Tanner has observed there are few atheists in a war zone. Interestingly he notes the spirit of God is stronger in Afghanistan than anywhere he has been outside the temple. In a place where mortality is a daily reality, setting correct and eternal priorities is crucial, he notes. I should’ve guessed he would note this, considering he would read the Journal of Discourses on his free time.

As an outside observer I am grateful for Mr. Tanner’s sacrifice. He provides me an important lens into a world I’ve never seen. Having spent many weekends in his company at his home, I already knew of his strong character. It is a privilege to be able to say he is my friend.

Tanner, like so many others, has taught me once again the American dream is more than money and material. It is the dream to watch a sunrise or sunset whenever you want. And the dream is best enjoyed by living in a way to help others have the same right. Mr. Tanner, like hundreds of thousands of brave souls, has known the pleasure of controlling his own destiny. He wants to help others feel similar joy in life.

Mr. Tanner says most people don’t understand the need for US involvement in Afghanistan. I agree with him. How could we know if we’ve never been? He also says the level of poverty is unlike any existing place in America. With that in mind, who am I to question the motives of someone who has volunteered his life to improve the lives of others? Mr. Tanner has literally lost his life in service of others. But back home awaits his wonderful wife, children, and swimming pool. I, for one, can’t wait to see him taking laps in his pool again.


NanaH said...

Spencer, you make me proud to be your mother.

Malorie said...

Oh Wayne...