Civilian contractors receive Defense of Freedom Medal
Photos and story by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Three KBR, Inc. employees received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Defense of Freedom in a ceremony May 1 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
The Defense of Freedom Medal is the civilian equivalent of the military’s Purple Heart Medal. It is awarded to civilian employees working in support of the Department of Defense who are injured or fatally wounded by hostile fire while in the line of duty.
Robert Martin Jr., a heavy truck driver with KBR’s Iraq Theater Transportation Mission and a Lindale, Texas, native, sustained a gunshot wound while driving in a flatbed convoy mission Dec. 5, 2005.
Lawrence Reynolds, a heavy truck driver with KBR’s Iraq’s TTM and a Tulsa, Okla., native, received shrapnel wounds and later had a cardiac episode as a result of an improvised explosive device detonation on his convoy June 6, 2006.
Lemmis Stephens Jr., a tank driver and fuel technician with KBR and a Houston native, sustained bilateral eye injuries when an incoming round exploded 70 feet from his bus, sending shrapnel through his windshield.
All three contractors have since returned to work in Iraq.
“Brave civilian men and women put their life on the line every day,” said Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, commanding general of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Mansfield, Ohio, native.
Civilian contractors have made and continue to make key contributions to the success of Iraq, Wentz said.
Wentz said the day’s ceremony was a bittersweet time, because, like the Purple Heart, the Defense of Freedom Medal is one earned through great physical sacrifice.
“It’s a medal a commander never wishes to present,” Wentz said.
Doug Horn, the vice president of operations for KBR and a Houston native, made his keynote address via live video feed from Baghdad due to logistical constraints that prevented him from attending the ceremony.
Stephens was also in Baghdad and witnessed the ceremony via video.
“An employee once told me he felt it to be a high calling to come to Iraq,” Stephens said. “Since he was unable to join the military, he wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the war on terror by offering his skills as only he can do and by assisting other KBR employees to make life easier for Soldiers in Iraq. … You see, that’s what a hero is, an everyday person.”
Stephens said civilian contractors are now an integral and permanent part of battlefield logistics and support in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stephens said it is a harsh reality that contractors are put in danger on a daily basis, but the injuries and lives lost have not been in vain.
“I am truly humbled by and I am also proud of the role you are all playing in support of the U.S. military and ultimately in the support of the people in Iraq,” he said.
Defense of Freedom Medal recipients Robert Martin Jr. (left), a heavy truck driver with Iraq’s Theater Transportation Mission, KBR, Inc. and a Lindale, Texas, native, and Lawrence Reynolds, a heavy truck driver with Iraq’s TTM and a Tulsa, Okla., native, pose with Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, commanding general of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Mansfield, Ohio, native, after receiving their medals in a ceremony May 1 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)