Soldier builds bridges at home, abroad

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Staff Sgt. Kenneth Doe gets more excited about the cities he helped rebuild in Iraq than the medals he brought home.

During his year-long service as an engineer and soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Doe shook off enemy fire while providing Iraqis clean drinking water and safe streets.

The three bridges he helped rebuild in Iraq feature similar designs as the ones he builds as an engineer with the Shelby County Highway Department.

The supplies in Iraq are of a poorer quality, though, he said. Years of trade embargoes limited some resources.

&uot;We’re in a desolate country with poor electricity and poor concrete. We had to make do with the local resources we had,&uot; Doe said. &uot;We had to modify.&uot;

In March 2003, Doe entered Iraq with the Army Reserve’s 926th Engineering Group from Montgomery.

He served as a Marine during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but this time he found his calling as an engineer.

The job fit him well, since he spends his days maintaining Shelby County’s roads and bridges.

There was even more work waiting for him in the cities and villages along the Tigris River.

Doe helped return efficient water and sewer service to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

He paved roads, built bridges, restored electricity and repaired homes. The Marine with front-line combat experience from the first Gulf War also served as a diplomat.

&uot;In addition to trying to mend local and national affairs, we were trying to teach unemployed people how to work,&uot; he said.

Doe hosted Japanese delegates to help raise money for engineering projects inside Iraq.

He trained Iraqi engineers at the power generating plants in heavily looted Mosul neighborhoods. He turned the lights back on for many Iraqis.

&uot;We went well beyond our military training,&uot; he said.

When Doe arrived in Iraq with the first wave of Reserve and National Guard units, he quickly learned that soldiers with engineering and building skills were in high demand.

The traditional Army chain of command adjusted so that engineers and craftsmen got the supplies and resources they needed.

Doe reported to Brig. Gen. Frank Helmick. He worked with a team that included a soils professor, an architect and other engineers. Their first job was water and sewer. Electrical generation plants came second.

&uot;When we first got there, we were tasked to rebuild water and sewer infrastructure inside Mosul,&uot; Doe said.

&uot;I reported straight to Gen. Helmick. They basically gave us our own engineering group to get things done.&uot;

The repairs that Doe helped carry out weren’t necessarily combat-related. He said most of them were a result of looting by some Iraqi civilians.

Some looters shot holes in water lines to pipe into their homes. They shot holes in transformers to collect oil.

Anything and everything was up for grabs in the streets of Mosul, Doe said.

Television sets, air conditioners and generators were stolen. Vandals ripped the copper wire from the walls of homes and businesses.

&uot;They just completely looted each other,&uot; he said. &uot;They just grabbed what they could.&uot;

With Saddam Hussein out of power, Doe learned that his job as a soldier would become more complicated.

Before, Doe said Hussein and the Baath Party controlled the entire nation. Hussein’s regime had to approve any building projects.

&uot;Everything went to Saddam. Everything went to Baghdad,&uot; he said.

Doe and the American soldiers had to teach Iraqis to handle problems locally.

&uot;They were liberated so fast, they couldn’t handle it,&uot; he said.

&uot;It’s a process that they had to work on, and we had to show them that ‘you can do it,’&uot; he said. &uot;’This is your area now.’

&uot;We had to tell them, ‘You don’t report to Baghdad anymore. You’ve got to stand on your own two feet now,&uot; Doe said.


In addition to 18-hour days, Doe endured constant threats from insurgent attacks.

He said although Iraq remains an unsafe land, he continues to support the nation’s efforts. He’s proud of the work he and the other troops did.

&uot;They’re scared and they’re excited about being liberated, but like any occupied nation, they’re unhappy about it,&uot; Doe said. &uot;We were shot at everyday.&uot;

Doe received the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal with Valor during his service.

He was injured when an Iraqi civilian drove a Jeep into the Humvee he was driving. Doe simply moved the Humvee out of the way and kept going, ignoring his injuries until later.

&uot;If you stop, you get shot at. There is no safe place inside Iraq,&uot; he said.

Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Harvel served alongside Doe in Iraq.

He said Doe’s tactical training helped their mission.

&uot;He brought a lot of tactical knowledge. He was on top of it,&uot; Harvel said. &uot;Others didn’t have time in theater or combat skills, and he trained them. Doe saved lives. We owe our mission’s success to him.&uot;

Capt. William McDonald served as a water engineer with Doe.

&uot;I credit Doe with all of us coming home,&uot; he said. &uot;He was a very decisive leader. I always felt safe with him. He had the instinct to know when an area was safe and when it was not safe.&uot;

After 17 years in the military and two wars, Doe said pride keeps him in the service. He’s considering fighting in Afghanistan.

&uot;I’m proud of what I did. I earned my right to vote,&uot; he said