Current and former civilian DoD employees, are/were you treated as second class citizens?
February 19, 2008 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Current and former civilian Department of Defense employees, are/were you treated as second class citizens?

I've got a line on a well-paying job in my field in an area of the country I like. Only one minor issue: it's a civilian job on a US Air Force base. I'm former Army myself, but really didn't recall much, if any professional contact with civilians while I was a soldier. I realize that bases vary, and probably treatment of civvies varies according to what job they have, etc., but what was your experience? (This job is in a library setting, by the way.) Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total)
I'm not a former or current DoD employee myself, but a close relative was a long-time civilian Navy employee. He never expressed any complaints along those lines. He was at a plant that primarily did R&D and the civilians outnumbered the military, though, (and the military personnel that were there were mostly officers, with few enlisted), so it may not be directly comparable to a base.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:54 AM on February 19, 2008

As a contractor with the DoD (Army), I was definetly treated as s second-class citizen (or even servant), by regular government civilian employees. But the regular military treated all civilian employees very well (the distinction wasn't clear, or important, to the people in uniform).
posted by Rash at 8:00 AM on February 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a general rule, I would say that civilians are treated extremely well and not at all like second-class citizens. The emphasis in the last couple of decades, as the services have shrunk, has been to maximize the use of servicemembers as "warfighters", and shift as much of the support functions as possible to civilians and contractors. As a result, the military understand now, more than ever, how essential civilians are. We provide the institutional memory and long-term stability in military organizations. We keep the lights on when units are deployed.

Of course, the degree to which the above is true will very depending on the particular service, the particular organization, and the particular job you are performing. For example, your status as a civilian at a troop garrison would likely feel different from your status at an installation that hosts only support-type units. My personal observation would be that the Air Force is the most socially open and accepting of services and you would perceive little to no difference in treatment as a civilian. The Army would follow closely. The Navy has always been a little more stiff and status-conscious so you might perceive some slight difference there.

You would think the least military of the services would be the easiest environment for a civilian, but oddly, the Coast Guard is the exception to my statements. Civilians in the Coast Guard are most assuredly treated like second class citizens, and the contempt is open and palpable.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:39 AM on February 19, 2008

Oh, I meant to add a comment about contractors at the end of the last post. Everybody treats contractors like crap - military and civil service. There's no escaping the profit motive with contractors - the bottom line is everything. And military culture has a fundamental disconnect with enterprises which are motivated by profit rather than altruism.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:41 AM on February 19, 2008

I worked for DoD for 5 years, for Defense Logistics Agency, providing printing and graphics services to some military bases, but mostly other civilian federal agencies. Although my office was in a federal building, I did visit military bases often, and met with officers and other non-civilians in doing my job. I was never treated with anything other than utmost respect. In fact, I looked forward to going to the bases, because I was treated better than I was in other federal offices.

But as you said, there are so many variables that it's hard to know what to expect in your specific situation.
posted by The Deej at 9:36 AM on February 19, 2008

I worked as a "job shopper" (not sure if that is what you mean by "contractor" - I was hired by Northrop Grumman, but not subject to benefits) at Warner Robins air force base. Worked on the base with air force personnel and NG people, and never left like an outsider or "second class". In fact, if anything, the air force guys/gals were always very professional. This was for systems/software support.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:22 AM on February 19, 2008

Civil-service employees are, in my 20+ year experience with the Air Force, treated very well. The active-duty folks will never look at you with QUITE the same amount of respect as they do their peers in uniform, but they will not treat you like 2nd-class citizens. I believe that this is particularly true of the Air Force, compared to the other services; the AF generally has a better "quality of life" and is more comparable to civilian life than the other services (for better and worse).
posted by davidmsc at 10:31 AM on February 19, 2008

In my two short years of working at a Pentagon-level DoD office, this is what I saw:

Civilians, who are civil-service employees, not contractors, are treated well, especially as you go further up the ranks. Many of them are ex-military, or military spouses, or have some deep connection to the military that goes beyond it being merely a job.

Contractors, that is, people who draw their paycheck from anywhere but the federal government, can unfortunately be shit on.
posted by kdar at 11:40 AM on February 19, 2008

As a current federal civilian Air Force employee, I would have to say that civilians are treated quite well. The benefits are great and people really rely on the stability that civilians add to the base. Most civilians are highly respected and treated quite well by the command on base.

Unless you are in the environmental field like I am, in which case you are treated like a third class citizen.
posted by gravity at 12:10 PM on February 19, 2008

My oldest brother was an Army officer who separated from service during the early-1990s reductions in forces. He was hired as a civil-service employee to work on the same base doing essentially similar work, and he remains in the reserves to this day. After a few years he left that job to pursue a different career, but he never complained about how he was treated as a civilian employee. He just wanted to change to do something else, in a different part of the country.

My mother was also a long-time Army civil service employee during the years after my father retired from the Air Force. She loved her job and place where she worked, and she derived great satisfaction from it.
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:51 PM on February 19, 2008

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