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The Bragunier family of Indian Head has a family business, but it’s not a store or a factory or a trade shop.

For generations now, members of the family have worked on base at Naval Support Facility Indian Head as everything from menial laborers to engineers in the high-tech energetics applications that the base is so well-known for.

On a Sunday afternoon in March, multiple generations of the family gathered around the dining room table in the Port Tobacco home of Diana and Daniel Bragunier. The family is a lively bunch, talking over one another boisterously every time an interesting question, or one with personal significance for all involved, is posed.

Everyone seems to have his or her own story to tell about coming to work on the base, and why, even after all this time, working there still seems to be such a special part of their lives.

The Bragunier family has been in Charles County since the Civil War, when Donald said his great-grandfather, a Union soldier, was stationed down here.

“He met a girl and married her, and that’s how we got here,” Donald said.

Given the family’s longevity in the area, it is not surprising that they have such ties to the base.

Since opening in 1890, the base at Indian Head has served as one of the largest employers of Charles County citizens.

The Braguniers’ passion for the base notwithstanding, there also seems to be a passion for the local history present in all members of the family.

The Braguniers have had family members employed on base since a footbridge spanning the width of the Mattawoman Creek was the primary means of transportation on and off the base. However, not everyone in the family who has worked there has stayed there up through retirement.

In the family’s older generations, Daniel’s uncle and Doug’s father, Bob, only worked on base for a short amount of time following his graduation from high school.

“I worked growing vegetables for the captain on our farm and for the other big shots,” Bob said, drawing laughter from the rest of the family. “I only did that for a summer right out of high school, and then I went away to college.”

Daniel’s father, Donald, also only worked for the base for a short amount of time. However, his father, William, was employed by the base as a machinist for 44 years until his retirement in 1961.

Robert “Doug” Bragunier began his time on base in 1981 in the labor shop, before moving six months later into the weapons simulation department. Currently, Doug is employed as an electronics technician. Doug’s shift in career path seems to be the norm for others in the family.

“I’ve worked there since I was 19 or 20 years old,” Doug said. “I’m not too far off from retirement right now, and I hope to continue working there right up until I do.”

Another one of the Bragunier sons, Don, works in Facility Support, located within the Corporate Operations department. Don has worked on base since 1986.

For Daniel, getting his foot in the door at Indian Head was not an easy process.

“I originally worked as an HVAC technician at Andrews Air Force Base, the Navy Yard in Washington and at the Pentagon,” Daniel said. “I just couldn’t seem to get in at Indian Head, even though I knew I wanted to.”

Daniel was able to finally gain employment on base in 1989, and started working there full-time in 1994 following his graduation from college with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Diana, who married into the family, works as an engineer on base for the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Although she is originally from Minnesota, Diana has worked at NSF Indian Head ever since her graduation from college.

“My father had worked on the base for a time, and that’s how I knew a bit about what was there,” Diana said. “I applied at a few places back home in Minnesota to be close to my family, but none of those panned out, and so I ended up here.”

For Daniel and Diana, the base was also a place where the professional met the personal.

“We met there,” Diana said with a smile.

“She was a chemist, I was working in the facilities office,” Daniel said. The couple, who went to high school together but did not know each other then, were introduced by a mutual friend and ended up dating.

For many of the Braguniers, the decision to work at Indian Head was one born out of convenience and a desire to remain near to family in the area.

“It was close to home, and they had employment,” Donald said of his decision to apply for work at NSF Indian Head, a sentiment that seemed to be shared by all members of the family present at the kitchen table that day.

“It was the only place in any of the three counties that had any available apprenticeships,” Bob said of the base during his youth. “People from all three counties, from Pennsylvania, from Western New Jersey, Virginia … all over, they’d come here to work.”

“Most of the time when they were hiring at Indian Head, it’s because they had some project that they were looking for help with,” Doug said. “I got hired there because I applied to help with one of those projects, and it just worked out that I’ve been there ever since.”

“If the civilian bosses wanted you … personnel would hire you,” Bob said.

The family did not seem to think their long history of ties to the base had any effect on gaining employment there.

Bob also said for those who eventually left the base to work elsewhere, the decision was often not one necessarily born out of hard feelings towards the base, but rather for a desire for the better pay one could often attain through working in Washington, D.C. Donald, who was one such who left the base to work in the city, agreed with this.

“Typically, what you made in Indian Head was less than what you made in town, and so a lot of people did that out of opportunity,” Donald said. “It was just hard to ignore that opportunity.”

After leaving Indian Head, Donald went on to work in engraving in the District, a career from which he retired some years ago.

For the family, the primary draw for employment at NSF Indian Head remains the closeness to home.

“I’ve always known I wanted to work there,” Daniel said. “The whole reason I wanted to work there in the first place was for the quality of life. I didn’t want to drive an hour both ways to work and deal with that headache every day: I wanted to be close to home, and I am. It only takes me about 20 minutes to get to work most mornings.”

“The job security is a plus too,” Doug added. “A lot of people worry about losing their jobs, but for us, that’s thankfully not that huge of a concern.”

“I wish I hadn’t had to leave Indian Head to work in D.C.,” Donald said. “It’s not that it was bad, it’s just an entirely different way of life there than it is here.”

The service of the Bragunier family has not gone unnoticed.

Capt. Andrew Buduo, commander of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Division, said the family is a “good example of what happens when you live in Charles County and come to work at NSWC.”

“This long sort of tie establishes and continues the proud tradition of government service at Indian Head,” Budou said.

Similarly, Jeron Hayes, public affairs specialist for Naval Support Activity South Potomac, felt the Bragunier’s dedication was exemplary.

“The successful history of Naval Support Facility Indian Head is built on the dedication of families like the Braguniers,” Hayes said. “So many families, for many generations, have dedicated themselves to working hard and making contributions that have helped our military members for many years. NSF Indian Head is fortunate to have the Braguniers among their dedicated employees.”

Although the town of Indian Head may no longer be the hub of Charles County as it once was, all seem to remember a time when Waldorf and La Plata were not the centers of activity as they are now.

“The bottom line is Indian Head’s base has done a lot for the county,” Doug said. “It’s a great place to be.”

lrenner@somdnews.com