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Contractor killed in Kabul attack wanted to make world safer, friend says

By STEPHEN BETTS | Bangor Daily News, Maine | Published: August 25, 2015

GARLAND, Maine (Tribune News Service) — Larry Hesseltine said it is difficult for him to talk about his friend and former colleague Corey Dodge, who was killed Saturday when a car bomb exploded in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The two worked together for seven years at the Knox County Sheriff's Office in Rockland. Hesseltine was both Dodge's supervisor and friend.

In fact, when Dodge was contacted by a private contractor to train police officers in Afghanistan, Hesseltine inquired about the work and was hired along with Dodge. But Hesseltine was assigned to Iraq.

Dodge, a 40-year-old Garland resident and father of four, was working for Virginia-based DynCorp International, escorting high-ranking officials around war-torn Afghanistan. He served as a police adviser and personnel movement coordinator, according to the company. He had been on tours of duty with contractors in Afghanistan for nine years but planned to come home for good in October because of the increasing violence, his mother, Letha Dodge, said over the weekend.

Reuters reported the suicide attack outside a hospital on a residential street at rush hour killed 12, including Dodge and two other DynCorp contractors. Scores more civilians were injured. The attacker drove the car toward an armored pickup truck belonging to DynCorp.

Hesseltine said he spent 16 weeks in Iraq, training police officers on how to better conduct patrols and be safe. Hesseltine did not speak the language but worked with an interpreter.

Violence was intense in Iraq during 2006, Hesseltine recalls. He was first stationed in the northern community of Tikrit and then he volunteered to go to Baghdad.

"We were shot at all the time," said Hesseltine, who now works as an officer for the Waldoboro Police Department.

He said an improvised explosive device exploded on his first day on the job in Baghdad on the Fourth of July. The Hummer he was in had only broken windows from the blast and no one was seriously injured.

"Every time you went outside the wire, you never knew what was going to happen," he said, referring to leaving the safer confines of U.S. military base camp and going on patrols with Iraqi officers.

After 16 weeks there, he returned home and was scheduled to go back to Iraq in October 2006. In September, a former Freeport police officer he knew -- Darrell Wetherbee -- was killed by a sniper in Iraq while standing outside a police station in Hawijah.

Hesseltine said that with a young family he decided it was too much of a risk to return to Iraq.

Hesseltine said the high pay was one reason people decided to go to work overseas despite the risk -- he signed a contract to earn about three times what he earned with Knox County.

But Hesseltine and Dodge had a larger motivation, he said.

"When 9/11 occurred, a lot of police officers felt like they wanted to do something more. We felt that going over there was doing our part," he said.

Hesseltine said he last met with Dodge two years ago and the two had dinner.

Dodge did not voice any concerns for his safety, he said, but talked about the mission of trying to stabilize Afghanistan to help make the world safer.

Dodge also talked about his family, as he always did, Hesseltine said.

"It was an honor to be his friend," Hesseltine said.

Dodge grew up in Dexter and was a good family man who loved his country, his mother said. His wife, Kelli Dodge, and their four children -- Samantha, Connor, Peyton and Blake -- were living in Garland while he was overseas.

Letha Dodge said he had sent in applications to police departments in Maine so he would have a job when he returned.

The Knox County Sheriff's Office issued a statement Monday, expressing its condolences to Dodge's family.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family," the statement said.

During his time at the sheriff's office, Dodge became a certified hostage negotiator and a field training officer, and taught defensive tactics at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Dodge was chosen as deputy of the year in 2002.

DynCorp issued a statement Monday naming the other contractors killed in the blast along with Dodge -- Richard P. McEvoy, 57, of Peachtree City, Georgia; and Barry D. Sutton, 46, of Calhoun, Georgia.

McEvoy, 57, was a retired U.S. Army colonel who joined the company in 2008. He managed a largely U.S.-funded program to advise and mentor Afghanistan's police and army on which Dodge and Sutton also worked.

"These men were true patriots. They dedicated their lives to service and were making a difference on behalf of their country," Lou Von Thaer, chief executive officer of DynCorp International, said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families, friends and colleagues during these difficult times."

The company also provided a quote from Dodge's wife.

"He loved his family more than life itself. His family and country were what mattered to him. He was my best friend and the best father any child could be blessed to have," Kelli Dodge said in the release.

DynCorp is the biggest U.S. contractor in Afghanistan. Between 2002 and 2013, the U.S. State Department paid it $2.8 billion in contracts to train and equip police and counter-narcotics forces, according to U.S. military auditor SIGAR.

DynCorp's parent Delta Tucker Holdings Inc. reported a loss of $90 million in the second quarter of 2015, something it largely attributed to the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, according to the news agency Reuters.

Reuters also reported violence has ratcheted up in the first half of 2015, with nearly 5,000 Afghan civilian casualties so far this year.

Dodge's mother said Monday that her son's wife was traveling to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Tuesday to await the return of his body.

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©2015 Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)
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