Hard work and humility: environmental officer thrives in Iraq

Story by Sgt. Chad Menegay
13th Sustainment Command Public Affairs
Photos by Spc. Britney Bodner

VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq — He walks the graduation stage at the Al Faw Palace rotunda in his Army Combat Uniform. Over this every-day uniform, he wears a Nova Southeastern University navy blue and gray doctoral robe.

He doesn’t want to stand out, but no other graduate wears a robe like his. He’s the only graduate earning a doctorate — in health science — at the ceremony and sports velvet facing, velvet band and golden yellow trim and tassels.

“There are 70 other college graduates here today at this ceremony,” said 1st Lt. John Saindon Jr., medical operations and environmental officer with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a San Antonio native. “It’s not just about me.”

For Saindon, 26, it might never be just about himself. While deployed, he took the lead on projects like influenza prevention, the mediation of burn pits and the raising of awareness on public health threats.

“Even though I wasn’t necessarily on the front lines, our team, the environmental officers and environmental consideration officers, we played a critical role in ensuring the health safety of tens of thousands of Soldiers throughout the entire theater,” he said.

“He puts others ahead of himself,” said Rhonda Taylor, Saindon’s mother and a Wichita, Kan., native.

Taylor said he’s always volunteered in various activities to help people.

An Eagle Scout, Saindon, has done volunteer work at elections, in hospitals, at parks and even on holidays.

Saindon said that he finds working during his free time rewarding.

Since October 2009 he’s instructed biology and environmental science classes for the University of Maryland at Joint Base Balad, he said.

“It’s the greatest feeling teaching Soldiers in an academic, professional atmosphere,” Saindon said. “I had 30-35 plus Soldiers. I wasn’t able to take a command position while I was here, so in a way it was almost like a command opportunity. I had Soldiers from every branch in the military. That joint group all collectively worked toward the same goal.”

Saindon effectively balanced executing his assigned duties and maximizing any extra time to the benefit of the overall JBB community, said Col. Knowles Atchison, deputy commander of the 13th SC(E), and a Fort Hood, Texas, resident.

“To find a young man that is disciplined enough to knock out his education and sacrifice leisure time and apply that toward achievement of a goal identifies him early as a leader and as somebody that will make tremendous contributions in the future to our country, to our society, to his community,” Atchison said.

Saindon's mother said she knew early that he wanted to make a difference in the world.

“I had him two weeks early and was only in labor two hours,” she said. “He wanted to get started.”

“I call him the pit bull of the G-7 shop,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Taylor, construction operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge with the 13th SC(E), and a Copperas Cove, Texas, native. “You give him a task, and he is on it; relentless.”

“He cares about his job, and it’s apparent in the way he performs and his professionalism,” Taylor said.

Saindon, an Army reservist, said after he attends the Captains’ Career Course his next goal is to find a job with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or even to pursue a career instructing higher education.

“I quickly realized the advantage and promising future of a terminal degree when I came to JBB, and I applied to teach at the University of Maryland,” Saindon said. “Based on my education credentials of almost completing the doctorate degree at the time, I was credentialed to teach.”

Saindon is a young man that’s done a lot of hard work to get his credentials, Atchison said.

“He’s (Saindon) focused on what he wants to do,” he said, “and now he’s ready to launch his overall career.”

Saindon took his final classes while serving as the environmental officer on this deployment.

“Part of the degree encompassed environmental and occupational science classes,” Saindon said, “and so along with that, the courses assisted with developing strategies and plans for the environmental considerations while serving in Iraq.”

According to Saindon, he kept surveillance of all disease non-battle injuries for supporting and subordinate units. Critical reported diseases included respiratory infections due to burn pit inhalation, communicable diseases, insect bites and other diseases that limited mission success. He facilitated weekly video teleconferences to keep people updated on environmental health considerations.

“He takes a very methodical approach to his work,” Atchison said. “He defined the problem, developed valid courses of actions to fix the problem and was able to articulate that to where senior officers could understand the problem, and understand what it’s going to take to fix (it).”

Saindon originally deployed with the 90th Sustainment Brigade, but their mission ended early, so he volunteered to stay at JBB. He felt obligated to finish out his deployment and complete the job, he said.

His health science background allowed him to assist the G-7 section of the 13th SC(E) with base closures. He traveled and inspected environmental considerations and coordinated with United States Forces – Iraq, he said.

“One of the hardest things to do on closing a base is to pass an environmental inspection,” Atchison said. “So he was a critical player on this staff at the time that he was up here. His ability and his civilian skills and education came in extremely handy in coordinating with USF-I’s environmental people.”

Saindon said he’s glad to have finished his doctorate program.

“The opportunity to move on to bigger things like career progression is there now,” Saindon said.

He also feels a sense of completeness with regard to his environmental health work in Iraq. He’s ready to go home and impact the United States with the same passion for work he displayed here, he said.


news photo
1st Lt. John Saindon Jr. (right), medical operations and environmental officer with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a San Antonio native, receives a Nova Southeastern University doctorate in health science education center certificate May 17 from Brig. Gen. Donald J. Currier (center), commander of the 49th Military Police Brigade, and Carolyn L. Baker (left), chief of continuing education programs, Office of the Secretary of Defense, at Al Faw Palace at Camp Liberty, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Britney Bodner)

news photo
1st Lt. John Saindon Jr., medical operations and environmental officer with the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a San Antonio native, waits to receive a Nova Southeastern University doctorate of health science education center certificate May 17 at Al Faw Palace at Camp Liberty Victory, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Britney Bodner, USF-I PAO)