Corps of Engineers civilians earn Civilian Combat Service pin

Tech. Sgt. John Foster (left) pours concrete on the active runway at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, as part of a $2.3 million airfield repair project. Tech. Sgt. James Holman spreads concrete in a hole. The runway project was one handled by Robert Owens, a civilian with the Tulsa Branch of the Army Corps of Engineers here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnston).

Tech. Sgt. John Foster (left) pours concrete on the active runway at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, as part of a $2.3 million airfield repair project. Tech. Sgt. James Holman spreads concrete in a hole. The runway project was one handled by Robert Owens, a civilian with the Tulsa Branch of the Army Corps of Engineers here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnston).

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Three Sheppard civilians were among those recently recognized by the Army Corps of Engineers for combat service in Afghanistan. 

They and others like them volunteered to go to Afghanistan to help construct facilities. Robert Owens, David Hudson and Donald Hendrix chose to wear the same uniform as active duty service men, eat the same food, live in the same tents and endure the same attacks. 

For their service, the men were awarded the Civilian Combat Service Pin for Operation Enduring Freedom. The pin was designed after the Afghanistan Engineering District logo and is authorized for wear with any civilian attire. 

Mr. Hendrix, the senior construction representative at Kandahar and Qalet Afghanistan National Army bases, said the Kandahar and Qalet projects were begun while the area was still being cleared of mines and had no perimeter. He said he survived three separate rocket attacks while at Qalet, adding he and the other members of the Afghanistan Engineering District were fortunate no one was killed. 

"There was nothing in place when we started; no streets, no buildings, no water wells, no sewer or electric. We are talking about a field," Mr. Hendrix said. "The one (base) in Qalet was built on the side of a mountain." 

Mr. Hendrix said these multimillion dollar projects when completed provide housing with a complete infrastructure for 2,000 Afghanistan army soldiers. 

"This work was probably the most rewarding and humbling work I have ever done," he said. "When you see 5-year-old kids driving sheep all day by themselves, it makes you aware you are in a different land." 

Mr. Owens, the deputy area engineer at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, has overseen the construction of more than $133 million of infrastructure during his tenure. Those projects include a $60 million runway and airfield upgrade, a $16 million control tower, ramps and cargo handling area, a $20 million joint operations center and permanent barracks, a $12 million ammunition supply point, $11 million entry control point and a $14 million hospital. 

Mr. Hudson, the project engineer at Kandahar Afghanistan Nation Army Base, worked on projects around Kandahar Airfield. His work took him outside the base and among the general population daily. He said he lived in permanent housing same as others assigned to Kandahar, but he slept his fair share in a tent. 

"Not every night you got back into KAF (Kandahar Air Field)," Mr. Hudson said.
He, too, experienced several rocket and small arms attacks. 

The men continued to work in the field to help build a better and safer Afghanistan despite the number of attacks and austere conditions. Like their military counterparts, they were honored with the Civilian Combat Service Pin. 

Mr. Owens and Mr. Hudson received their pins in Afghanistan. 

"I really appreciate the fact that the Corps is recognizing the fact we volunteered to work in a combat zone," Mr. Owens said. "I can wear the pin on my lapel of any civilian attire and know it recognizes my time in a combat zone as a civilian." 

Mr. Hudson received his pin from Lt. Gen. Carl Strock. Mr. Owens received his pin from Col. Christopher Toomey. 

"It means as much to me as my Vietnam Service Medal," Hudson said. 

Mr. Hendrix received his pin in a ceremony here at Sheppard. Mr. Gary Megzer, the resident engineer for the Sheppard office, presented Mr. Hendrix his pin June 13. 

"I am honored to have received the recognition that we civilians were in the combat zone along side the military personnel," Mr. Hendrix said.