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Maj. Gen. Paul Fletcher, left, from the 16th Air Force, hands a citation for a Commander’s Award for Civilian Service to Jeremy Moeder, an American contractor who worked in Iraq along with British contractors, from left, Andrew Bendy, David Cole and Malcom Eatwell, who also received honors.

Maj. Gen. Paul Fletcher, left, from the 16th Air Force, hands a citation for a Commander’s Award for Civilian Service to Jeremy Moeder, an American contractor who worked in Iraq along with British contractors, from left, Andrew Bendy, David Cole and Malcom Eatwell, who also received honors. (Ben Murray / S&S)

RAF MILDENHALL — It can be difficult to earn a prestigious Army medal for service in Iraq, but try getting one as a British civilian and see how far you get.

In a rare and hard-won tribute celebrated here last week, Maj. Gen. Paul Fletcher from the 16th Air Force pinned the fourth-highest honorary Department of the Army medal for service on four men for work in Iraq in 2004 and 2005.

British contractors David Cole, Andrew Bendy and Malcom Eatwell, along with American contractor Jeremy Moeder, all employees for Aegis Defense Services at the time of their deployment, received the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service in the ceremony.

The medals were conferred by Fletcher after a yearlong nomination and approval effort championed by the director of operational analysis for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Dr. Patricia Hickman, who worked with the men in Iraq.

Hickman, a civilian who has deployed five times and worked with multitudes of contractors, said she was compelled to push for the awards because of the men’s congenial attitude, outstanding work ethic and their willingness to perform duties in dangerous situations.

“I’ve seen a lot of contract support. I’ve seen some crap that would infuriate the American taxpayer,” she said. “In 27 years, these guys stand out for me.”

In all, Hickman nominated 15 contract workers for the awards, nine of which were approved, and four of which were located in England, she said.

The four England-based Aegis employees worked mainly in network and communications support, supplying information and Web-based data to forward commands all around Iraq. But Hickman said they also displayed bravery beyond the call of duty, and credits their work with helping save servicemembers’ lives and track down insurgents.

One of the men, Bendy, volunteered to go out on a rooftop in Ramadi, “During an honest-to-God, extended mortar barrage,” to make sure troops had the communications they needed to call in support, Hickman said.

“Think combat comms to the extreme,” she said.

Hickman nominated the contractors for the awards about a year ago, but sighs heavily when trying to recount the red tape that had to be hacked through to get the medals for the men.

The awards are Army medals, she said, because the Aegis employees were often supporting Army units in Iraq, though they also worked for joint commands, allowing Fletcher to sign the nominations, Hickman said.

Originally, they were supposed to be given to the men while they were still in Iraq, but they disappeared in the mail before they could reach them, she said.

The four men said they were surprised to hear they were nominated for awards, and even more shocked after research revealed it was such a highly regarded medal.

“My immediate reaction was, ‘What is it?’ ” Bendy said. “I don’t think I realized at the time it was quite as prestigious as it was.”

On hand at Thursday’s ceremony were members of some of the men’s families, including wives, children and parents.

“This is big stuff and it’s long overdue, I can tell you that,” Fletcher said at the presentation.

The recognition is well deserved by the men, however, Hickman said.

“When I needed somebody to help, when I needed communications support, intelligence support, logistics support, they came through,” she said.

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