War on Terrorism

Monday, April 04, 2011

Face of Defense: Infantryman Doubles as Outpost Mayor

By Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer
Task Force Duke

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan, April 4, 2011 – He’s never had to take a platform to the voters, deal with critical media coverage or balance the books at City Hall. But as mayor of Combat Outpost Deh Yak here, Army Staff Sgt. Wesley Shealey has more in common with his civilian counterparts than most people know.

Both work to ensure the safety and health of their communities, provide recreational opportunities and facilitate orderly traffic flow. The big difference is that Shealey governs in eastern Afghanistan.

Shealey, a 1st Infantry Division infantryman assigned to the Fort Knox, Ky.-based Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Duke, is serving a one-year deployment here that began in January.

Less than a week into his tour, the Jacksonville, Fla., native was designated by his superiors to be the combat outpost’s mayor, largely because he had the initiative and personality needed to interact not only with the local people, but also with soldiers seeking answers to numerous problems.

He’s balancing his new mayoral duties alongside his regular job as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the company’s operations intelligence team.

“I’m still only getting one paycheck,” he joked.

The mayor’s duties are a full-time job in their own right. Having days off like a civilian mayor is a luxury Shealey hasn’t enjoyed yet, largely due to the upkeep of the plumbing and electrical systems on which his constituents depend.

“The [combat outpost] mayor is a jack of all trades, with one of the most important positions on any installation,” said Army 1st Sgt. Michael Berry of the 2nd Battalion’s Company C and a native of Columbia, S.C.

Berry and Army Capt. Michael Carrion of Bell Buckle, Tenn., Company C’s commander, receive a daily report from Shealey summarizing concerns such as the need to maintain adequate fuel resources to keep tactical operations running seamlessly.

“You can’t survive without it,” Berry said of Shealey’s role.

As for his other mayoral duties, name the civilian equivalent and odds are good that Shealey is doing it.

Waste water and fresh water concerns? He purifies and regularly tests the nonpotable water his soldiers use for hygiene, and he stages bottled water across the outpost for drinking.

Fire prevention? He maintains fire-control measures and equipment near the outpost’s many fuel points, which have pumps that require his new generator-mechanic skills.

Shealey even dabbles in police-type work, ensuring local workers are properly escorted around the outpost and that trucks making deliveries follow traffic regulations. He also supervises the morale, welfare and recreation center, acquires new fitness equipment and assists with other morale issues.

For soldiers deployed to such a distant, isolated location, those other issues often come down to receiving letters and packages from home. The mayor helps to sort the mail and puts the word out when it arrives, but he’s not a miracle worker when it comes to the post office.

“Mail is a little slow, with some letters taking a month to get here,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest issues.”

Shealey has a full-time assistant: Army Spc. Victor Garcia, a Company C infantryman from Denver who knew Shealey long before the present deployment.

“He was one of the first mentors I had at Fort Knox,” Garcia said.

Effectively governing Combat Outpost Deh Yak and developing young soldiers into leaders are Shealey’s main professional tasks, but a planned retirement from the Army also is on the horizon, along with a possible return to his civilian career as a paramedic, a position he held during a break in military service from 1999 to 2003.

His wife, Alisha, is a nurse, and they have three sons who range in age from 5 to 9. Though they undoubtedly look forward to Shealey switching to the hats he wears as husband and father, the chance to make a positive contribution for his community and its residents here is important to him, he said.

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