Contractors caught in the line of fire

The untold story of how DynCorp employees were hit by a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul that thrust them into the role of combatants and first responders. Now, the company has honored 26 of those employees with their Chairman's Valor Awards.

In the treacherous hills of Afghanistan, heroism comes in many forms – and DynCorp International is doing its part to recognize the largely unsung heroism of government contractors working in warzones.

“It really is kind of an untold story about contractors over here, their bravery and sacrifice,” said Richard McEvoy, senior DynCorp program director who spoke to Washington Technology from Kabul Wednesday.

DynCorp has honored 26 of its personnel serving on the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense Program with the Chairman’s Valor Award for their heroic efforts during a terrorist attack on Camp Pinnacle in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 2, 2013. Through an U.S. Army contract, DynCorp provides training and mentoring services to the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior and Afghan National Police.

The Chairman's Valor Award is among DynCorp's highest honors, and serves to recognize contractors whose heroism and sacrifice are no less impressive than those of U.S. military members.

McEvoy, himself a prior recipient of the award, was in command on the day of the attack.

Despite substantial experience on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan – “I’ve been through my share of bombings and mortar fire,” he said -- the explosion that day left him initially stunned.

“I thought it was an earthquake, honestly,” he said.

A truck bomb detonated outside the Camp Pinnacle compound at dawn on July 2, breaching the walls and allowing a quartet of insurgents into the facility.

In the ensuing firefight and emergency response, McEvoy said his team acted admirably.

“It was incredible,” McEvoy said. “(My team members) ran to the sound of the guns. You had guys in nothing more than their underwear carrying (wounded) people to the aid station.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Jay Gazani was one of the contractors on the ground that day; he's one of the 26 being recognized for heroism.

“It’s very simple,” said Gazani, a 30-year law enforcement veteran. “We responded to an action.”

Gazani downplayed his own role in the response to the terrorist attack, instead praising the professional, automatic responses of his fellow contractors.

“No one had to tell anyone what to do,” he said. “They all took action without direction, people you didn’t expect to see doing that.”

In the “chaotic” environment, Gazani and his colleagues set to work “moving debris, establishing a safe zone,” and engaging the attackers, all of whom were killed in the firefight.

Several DynCorp contractors were also killed that day.

“We lost some precious lives,” Gazani said.

Gazani and McEvoy both noted the important role contractors play in regions like Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. military units rotate in and out frequently.

“(Contractors) provide continuity,” said Gazani, “building relationships, getting to know the locals.”

He worked in Afghanistan for four years, though he’s now stateside, enjoying some time off.

Fifteen of the 26 contractors being honored by DynCorp are still in Afghanistan, and McEvoy said they gathered for a “well-attended” ceremony to receive their awards.

For the 11 awardees who have returned home, to the United States and elsewhere, DynCorp arranged personal ceremonies through its DI Care employee support program.

“Each day, DynCorp International team members do extraordinary things to support programs around the world,” said Steve Gaffney, DynCorp International chairman and CEO, news release this week. “But on July 2, 2013, the unthinkable occurred in the form of a terrorist attack on Camp Pinnacle in Afghanistan, and 26 individuals serving on the (Afghanistan Ministry of Defense Program) program opened our eyes to a new definition of extraordinary.”

Under the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense Program contract with the U.S. Army, DynCorp assists the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan by providing training and mentoring services for the Afghanistan Ministry of Interior and Afghan National Police.
The following DynCorp personnel received the Chairman’s Valor Award:

•         Bryan Burton of Starkville, Miss.
•         Greg Chaffer of Carrolton, Va.
•         Valentin “Sorin” Chirila of Bucharest, Romania
•         Paul Wayne Christensen, II, of Locust Grove, Ga.
•         Razvan C. Ciociu of Magnolia, Romania
•         Guy R. Cordle of Orofino, Idaho
•         David C. Damrell of Houston, Texas
•         Jack Doraty of Santa Fe, Texas
•         Branko Dzomlija of Gauteng, South Africa
•         Stanley Fudor of Seven Fields, Penn.
•         Joseph Gasparri of Waterbury, Conn.
•         Jay Gazani of Walnut Hill, Fla.
•         Jeffery Gerds of Drydew, Mich.
•         Davion Hart of Augusta, Ga.
•         Daniel Herman of St. Augustine, Fla.
•         Johnny Jett of Davenport, Fla.
•         Randy Lambert of New Orleans, La.
•         Jeremiah Lignitz of Bo Canton, Ga.
•         Christopher Losinno of Lancaster, Penn.
•         Marvin Marshall of Lochbuie, Colo.
•         Georges Perez of France
•         Robert Rahn of Stratford, Wisc.
•         Jeffrey Rippen of Decatur, Ala.
•         Zoran Trajkov of Kratovo, Macedonia
•         Allen Williams of Leesburg, Va.

“I served 20 years in the Army, with infantry and special forces,” McEvoy said. “I’d put these guys up against any of the elite units I served with.”

For Gazani, the award is an honor, but he said that true heroism is borne out over the long haul.

“It’s not just about those exciting few moments of a firefight,” Gazani said. “It’s about getting reestablished and starting the process of recovery.”

NEXT STORY: Computech names new CFO and COO