Face of Defense: Officers Recognized for Bridge-Collapse Recovery Mission
By Patti Bielling
Special to American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, March 12, 2008 Two military officers were recognized in front of their peers March 4 for assisting civil authorities during recovery operations following the I-35 West Minneapolis bridge collapse in August.
Navy Capt. Bradley Gawboy, left, and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek participate in a panel discussion 2008 Joint National Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer Workshop in Miami. Gawboy received the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Minnesota Commendation Ribbon with Pendant during the workshop. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Maj. Paul Stevenson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Col. Michael Chesney and Navy Capt. Bradley Gawboy each received the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Minnesota Commendation Ribbon with Pendant during the 2008 Joint National Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer Workshop in Miami.
Chesney is assigned to U.S. Army North as the Region 5 defense coordinating officer, and Gawboy is the Navy’s emergency preparedness liaison officer in Minnesota. They were members of the federal team supporting local responders in recovering victims of the August bridge collapse that killed 13 people.
The medals were presented following a panel discussion of the recovery mission. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who led the response, was a member of the panel.
Stanek said that when Chesney arrived at the site of the bridge collapse, he “didn’t know him from Adam and didn’t know anything about the military.”
However, when Chesney and his team began work, Stanek said he had no doubt they’d be successful in their singular mission of recovering victims’ remains.
Stanek said he was continually impressed with how well the joint military team worked together throughout the operation. “I was amazed to see a Navy officer taking orders from an Army officer,” he said. “Local law enforcement doesn’t work that well. We strive to be like that. We’d love to have that type of organizational control and structure of a joint command.”
Chesney said the knowledge and professionalism that the state and regional emergency preparedness liaison officers brought to the team were invaluable.
He said he relied on Gawboy’s advice and expertise to integrate more than 20 members of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., into the recovery operations.
“The divers were the true heroes of this event; we just helped bring them in,” Gawboy said. “We had such a critical and reverent mission, and everyone focused on that and responded in the most professional manner.”
Gawboy said that, until this event, he and the other Minnesota emergency preparedness liaison officers thought the only civil support experience they would get would be assisting with hurricane response in another state.
“We were very surprised to find ourselves working a civil support mission in Minneapolis,” he said. “But it’s because we had trained here and elsewhere that we were prepared to do the mission.”
Gawboy found being a member of the community helped him fit in quickly. He said he had attended high school with some of the local responders and was acquainted with Stanek through community and professional organizations in their town of Maple Grove, Minn.
Overall, Gawboy said, the event demonstrated the benefit of collaboration among local, state and federal responders and credited Stanek’s leadership for the mission’s success.
Chesney added that the successful mission reinforced the importance of a joint military team that includes emergency preparedness liaison officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. They are in a unique position, he said. Not only are they experts on integrating their service capabilities, they bring an understanding of the states and communities they serve.
Stanek agreed and said he emphasized to conference attendees the importance of building personal relationships before an emergency.
“Before working with them, I had never heard of an EPLO or DCO,” Stanek said. “It’s important that they go out and introduce themselves to the fire chiefs and police chiefs in their communities and continue working on building or strengthening those relationships before an emergency occurs.”
(Patti Bielling works for U.S. Army North Public Affairs.)