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When disasters strike during your selfless service deployments

Published Jan. 4, 2019
Col. Jason E. Kelly, Afghanistan District Commanding Officer pins the Global War on Terrorism Medal and NATO medal on Mark A. Coburn for his outstanding work ethics while deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Col. Jason E. Kelly, Afghanistan District Commanding Officer pins the Global War on Terrorism Medal and NATO medal on Mark A. Coburn for his outstanding work ethics while deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Mark A. Coburn is beaming with pride as he is presented the NATO medal from Afghanistan District Commander, Col. Jason E. Kelly and Command Sergeant Major Nathaniel Atkinson.

Mark A. Coburn is beaming with pride as he is presented the NATO medal from Afghanistan District Commander, Col. Jason E. Kelly and Command Sergeant Major Nathaniel Atkinson.

Answering the call to deploy in support of the USACE mission in Afghanistan is one that Mark A. Coburn embraced with open arms in February 2018. The Program Manager from Alaska said this was his first time deploying and he thought it would be a good thing to do. “I feel honored to have been able to work on some very important projects,” Coburn reflected.
However, with a 7.0 earthquake affecting his family and home life in Alaska the decision for Coburn to stay or go tugged at his professional core. Ultimately, with more than 1,800 aftershocks and yet another powerful quake hitting Alaska on Dec. 31 he knew it was time to get home and take care of things there.
While he was here and up to the last minute before his scheduled departure, Coburn did some heavy lifting for the Afghanistan District. He was, ironically in the center of gravity, where all the action happens. He worked on some of the district’s biggest projects. “Some of the things that I believe we’re going to be known for, some of the things that lots of folks are depending on us,” said Col. Jason E. Kelly, Afghanistan District commander.
Coburn has played an incredible role as a Program Manager in Kabul and supporting in the Kabul Security Force and the importance of Kabul.
As the commander described all the accolades associated with Coburn he said, “It’s a really big deal and it goes back years and engineers doing what we always do and we answer the call, we come up with solutions and we’re still doing that.”
In fact, Col. Kelly stated that he wasn’t going to let Coburn leave, at least following his End of Tour award presentation because of his expertise, and that he was going to bring him into another meeting to take advantage of the experience he has to help the District get through to make sure it gets done right.
Coburn’s reply to the team was, “I’m here to make myself available to the command. Besides I have a zero dark thirty show time for departure.”
Col. reiterated that there is always that tug of home when you’re deployed. “We all have it, things you need to take care of and you sort of stave it off, you sort of go as long as you can, then there comes a point where you probably ought to go take care of some of those things.”
The Afghanistan District has a huge mission here within USACE, and since its people that make up the district, the leadership here is grateful to be in a position, grateful that folks like Coburn has a chain of command that says you know we really need this guy, but there’s another place that he’s needed and we all have a part in the plan to get Coburn home and Col. Kelly is honored to be a part of that.
Coburn said he will definitely cherish the time he has been with the District. He said he kind of wish he could be at New Kabul Compound Project Delivery Platform for the next six months just to see how the dynamic within USACE is going to change, saying enthusiastically it is going to be different than it has been.
“My number one regret as a Program Manager in Afghanistan is I didn’t quite get my recent project awarded,” as he gestures, but it’s so close.”
“I’m also very happy to be going back home to be with my family during their enduring times following the earthquake and I so appreciate your support for that.”
He did receive the Global War on Terrorism Medal along with the Non-Article 5 NATO Medal for his selfless service during his deployment with the USACE Afghanistan District.
Col. Kelly said, “Mark you’ve answered the call, with your manner of performance, the impact you’ve had on the theater, and the level of responsibility we bestowed upon you without a doubt, and I’m grateful to have served with you.”