Spc. Jessica Roop is a Fort West Virginia success story. At the age of 34, Roop, a recently divorced mother of two teenage girls, joined the National Guard. She says it was an easy decision to make at the time. “I could stay at home and still go to my favorite fishing hole several weekends a month. My kids wouldn’t have to change schools and they wouldn’t have to leave their family support system.”
After basic training, though, Roop found it difficult to make ends meet. Her job as a prison guard required her to work 16 hours a day, six days a week, and left little time for her to spend with her girls. She was making plans to move to Virginia when a job became available at the Eleanor Army National Guard facility. “I got lucky. I’m meant to be here.” Roop, who lives in Gauley Bridge, happily drives the 72-mile roundtrip to Eleanor every day because she says, “I love it here and they love me. We’re a family and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
The Eleanor facility where Roop works has two primary objectives: maintain equipment for all the National Guard units in West Virginia, and repair or refurbish damaged equipment coming back from the wars. To accomplish these monumental tasks, the National Guard employs both soldiers and military authority personnel (civilians). Lt. Col. Joe Peal, who oversees the Eleanor operation as well as seven other National Guard maintenance units across West Virginia, says civilians fill important roles at his facilities. “Military authority employees bring special skill sets into the workplace, especially in some of the more highly technical areas. The work we do here is important because our customers are our soldiers who are depending on the equipment we supply them with to work properly. The mix we have of soldiers and military authority makes sure the soldiers’ equipment is in top shape and ready to go.”
Mark Nelson, a shop foreman and military authority employee, says that the working relationship between civilians and soldiers at the Eleanor facility is a good one.
“We didn’t take anybody’s jobs. The soldiers know we’re here to help, and add our skill sets to the tasks at hand.”
National Guard maintenance units are not only good for workers like Nelson, they also give local businesses a financial boost. Sgt. 1st Class Paul Brown oversees the refurbishment and repair of generators that range in size from two kilowatt units that can be carried by two soldiers in the field to 60 kilowatt generators that are used to power operations for entire camps. He says that once the units are disassembled on-site, the parts are sent to local contractors for repair before being reassembled into a working unit. “We do as much here as possible to cut down on turnaround time, but we also rely heavily on local companies to supply parts and repair work.” Companies that Brown deals with vary from national chains like NAPA and Lowe’s to small businesses like Earl’s Auto Parts, Mid-Valley Machinery, Henderson Electronics and Winfield Hardware. Brown says that this is the case in all the communities where the maintenance units are located, including Kenova, Parkersburg, Moundsville, Buckhannon, Point Pleasant, Camp Dawson and Summersville.
Lt. Colonel Peal says that Eleanor’s Army National Guard facility has at least a year’s work ahead of it, which won’t change despite planned troop withdrawals from Iraq. He adds that new opportunities are possible as the facility works to expand contracts to build engines and tire assemblies. “Our operation grows every day and changes every day; that’s good news.”