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Air Force Special Agent Ed Calter, of Misawa Air Base, Japan, has been selected to compete for the "12 Outstanding Airmen" award.

Air Force Special Agent Ed Calter, of Misawa Air Base, Japan, has been selected to compete for the "12 Outstanding Airmen" award. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It was a year spent outsmarting insurgents in Iraq and protecting Misawa Air Base residents from potential threats. For Ed Calter, a special agent with the base’s Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 623rd Detachment, it’s all in a day’s work.

The Air Force may think otherwise.

Calter, from Philadelphia, is in the running for the prestigious “12 Outstanding Airmen” award, which recognizes the top enlisted Air Force personnel for superior leadership, job performance, community involvement and personal achievements, according to the Air Force Association, which sponsors the award with the Air Force. The winners are to be announced in September.

Nominated by his commander, Maj. Thomas Cox, Calter is one of two airmen selected from OSI to compete against other major command winners for the honor.

“I didn’t realize the magnitude of what he had done until I put it all together and realized this was definitely my choice for this award,” Cox said of Calter, who goes by special agent, and not his Air Force rank.

The award period is from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2004 — a year Calter likely won’t ever forget. Just five days into 2004, on Jan. 5, insurgents detonated improvised explosive devices within 75 yards of Calter’s convoy in Iraq. Calter, who often drove the lead vehicle of the security team protecting a top State Department official, was credited with maneuvering the vehicle away from the attack and saving 13 convoy members from injury or death, according to Calter’s award citation.

But that was just in a day’s work: Ask Calter whether he encountered any close calls, and he doesn’t mention the incident.

“Anywhere in Iraq is a close call,” he said. “Mortars, gunfire, you name it, it’s there. Our thing was to get our principle from Point A to Point B without incident. We were lucky.”

Calter was in Iraq for five months — from November 2003 to March 2004. He was part of a six-member OSI team assigned to protect Ambassador Ronald Schlicher, at the time the third-highest-ranking official of Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority. Calter’s job was to “ensure the safety of the protectee and prevent any embarrassment,” such as a demonstrator hitting the official with an object, he said.

Cox said Calter’s job essentially was “making himself the protectee’s bullet-proof vest. Standing between the bad guys and the good guys, that I think is the most dangerous job in Iraq.”

Much of Calter’s OSI work at Misawa after Iraq was in counterintelligence, Cox noted, the details of which he couldn’t talk about due to security reasons.

“He worked a lot with the Japanese police and Japan Air Self-Defense Force counterparts to follow through on allegations of suspicious activity” reported through OSI’s Eagle Eyes program, Cox said. Calter also helped with a child pornography investigation at Misawa involving a noncommissioned officer who downloaded more than 1,000 child pornography images on his home computer, according to Calter’s award citation.

For Calter, 34, OSI is his second Air Force career. He was in the medical field his first nine years, but with two brothers who are police officers, he was always interested in law enforcement, he said. He said he’s honored that his commander nominated him for the “12 Outstanding Airmen” award, but he was just doing his job.

“I don’t think I did anything more special than anyone else does within this career field.”

Said Cox: “He’s probably one of the best agents I’ve worked for since I’ve been in OSI. I’ve been in the Air Force for 18 years. I think he’ll go all the way.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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