SemperComm Cites Troops for Morale-Boosting Efforts

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2007 - Four servicemembers who recently returned from deployments to remote sites in Iraq and Afghanistan were recognized May 10 for their efforts in boosting their fellow troops' morale.

SemperComm, a nonprofit group founded to boost the morale of troops deployed to remote duty posts, presented its SemperComm Award to four servicemembers who promoted morale, welfare and recreation projects at their posts.

This year's winners were:

-- Marine 1st Sgt. Kevin Conboy, who returned home in March after serving for six months with C Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaisance Battalion in Iraq's Anbar province;

-- Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Wright, a reservist who just returned from a 10-month deployment to Iraq with Marine Corps 4th Civil Affairs Group, Detachment 4;

-- Navy Lt. Marc Soss, a reservist who recently returned from a seven-month deployment to Camp Clark, Afghanistan, where he served as morale, welfare and recreation program manager; and

-- Army Capt. Wayne Keeler, who served with the National Police Transition Team at Forward Operating Base Union 3 in Baghdad.

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Jay Foley, former commander of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and a member of the awards selection committee, praised the troops for helping improve the quality of life at their bases. Many, he noted, lacked basic communications, entertainment and recreation support that larger military facilities enjoy.

Conboy, for example, managed his company's morale and welfare program, making sure all 500-plus members were well-stocked with "things we all take for granted" such as socks, gloves, soap, shampoo, snacks and newspapers, Foley said.

He worked some of his "supply magic" during Christmastime, ensuring more than 500 care packages from home arrived on time. "All I did was ask, and the American people did all the rest," Conboy said, shrugging.

He also installed a new computer system to enable Marines to send e-mails and call home.

Wright, a reservist from Loveland, Colo., earned the nickname "combat plumber" by putting his engineering skills and muscles to work after every duty day to repair and upgrade plumbing at the Al Anbar Government Center, Foley said.

The facility, used as a routine stopping point for transiting Marines needing a hot meal, shower and a few hours of downtime, had poor shower and sanitary facilities before Wright turned things around, Foley said.

"Using a pick ax and a shovel and any other tools he could muster, Staff Sergeant Wright worked for an additional five to six hours nearly every evening, repairing broken plumbing, replacing fixtures and adding new facilities so his fellow Marines could actually rest and recharge while at Al Anbar," he said.

Soss, a reservist from Bradenton, Fla., "worked double-time" to ensure troops at his post had access to recreational opportunities, Foley said. He organized marathons and pool parties, set up a 20-person gymnasium, arranged safe transport, food and lodging to take troops to road races at other bases, set up weekly power tournament nights and developed a base communications system so troops could contact home.

Soss also coordinated a fundraiser for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's Wounded Warrior Program that enables wounded troops to leave the hospital periodically for recreation and entertainment, Foley said.

Keeler, the only awardee not present at last night's gala and awards ceremony, applied his skills as a cabinet maker, along with his "innate ability to negotiate deals for supplies and needed equipment," to become an invaluable member of his team, Foley said.

After his normal duties training Iraqi police recruits, Keeler built furniture and extensively renovated the local facilities with leftover lumber and power tools he purchased himself, Foley noted.

He built a loft for his roommate, a set of desks and other furniture for the command's operations center and a large outdoor patio, complete with barbecue. In addition, Keeler put a roof over a small outdoor plaza to create a mess and entertainment room, complete with tiered seating so troops could watch movies and sporting events stadium-style.

Conboy said serving at a remote post makes troops realize how much they miss the comforts of home.

"We live in a real sugar-cookie society that's nice and clean and has sprinkles on it," he said. "When you go to the Third World, you feel like you're on the dark side of the moon. You really miss the things you took for granted."

Foley said this year's SemperComm Award winners worked "tirelessly above and beyond the scope of the regular assignment" to help improve conditions at their posts.

"These are the selfless ones, nominated by their units and peers," he said. "Their contributions have inspired and encouraged those with whom they served in Iraq and Afghanistan."

SemperComm Foundation Executive Director Lara Coffee praised the winners' efforts to boost morale for deployed troops in remote sites.

"The SemperComm Award winners find ways to keep their comrades' spirits up while they're stationed so far away from home," she said.

"They exemplify service - the kind of service SemperComm itself provides," she said. "Our award winners work hard to keep unit morale up, which is essential for our uniformed men and women, especially as duty tours continue to get longer."

Lara called good morale a key to ensuring troops stay safe and the mission gets accomplished. "Keeping spirits high helps military personnel stay focused on the job at hand and get home safely," she said.

SemperComm is a partner in the Defense Department's America Supports You program. The program showcases the myriad efforts of private citizens, schools, churches, corporations and other groups to show support for the men and women in uniform.

[Web Version:]