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Posted 12/4/2015

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By James D'Ambrosio
Public Affairs

Richard Dabal (PL-E), a physical scientist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New York District for 16 years, recently received the Chairman’s Award for Valor from the New York City Federal Executive Board at a formal ceremony in Lower Manhattan. The honor recognizes his participation in Operation United Assistance — providing logistics, training and engineering support to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Monrovia, Liberia (West Africa), helping contain the Ebola virus. His three-month deployment with the District’s Forward Engineer Support Team-Advanced (FEST-A) ran from October 2014 - January 2015.

Recommendation & Risk

In a letter of recommendation, Arthur Connolly (EN), chief of the Engineering Division, said, “This mission required them [FEST-A team members] to travel within Liberia for field work…putting their personal health at risk. His volunteerism and courage is commendable.”

These words were borne out as Mr. Dabal discussed some of the risks — avoiding close contact with people to reduce the chance of contracting the Ebola virus, and some 15 species of poisonous snakes in vegetated areas. In fact, during deployment he encountered a black poisonous snake on a path through a wooded area. Aware of the danger, he kept his distance and stomped his foot to try and scare it way. The snake didn’t budge. Finally, he slowly walked around it and avoided further incident.

Water Well Expert

Despite such dangers, Mr. Dabal carried out several missions serving the needs of Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs): A water well expert, he provided oversight on contractors drilling deep water supply wells, inspecting incinerators to ensure they were built to specifications and providing construction oversight, and advising U.S. contracting officers working with Liberian drilling contractors to ensure work met standards and water testing was completed.  

Mission Challenges

Another aspect of his work was preparing environmental assessments for areas where bases were to be built. This involved site inspections looking for potential environmental issues. When he did find a problem, he devised solutions, inspecting at least eight (8) sites in Liberia. When asked about mission challenges, he spoke about coaching American contracting officers lacking experience with the type of projects he was working on. He drew on his knowledge of contracting to guide personnel with important information to help avoid mistakes.

Adding to the challenge, Liberia is one of the wettest countries in the world averaging 170 inches of rainfall annually, and, being close to the Equator, 90-degree heat and high humidity was common. Richard wasn’t fazed; he’s deployed a number of times with the New York District, including after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Leisure Interests

Mr. Dabal holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Wisconsin (Madison). When he’s not working, he enjoys white-water rafting and kayaking in New England, down south, and out west, something he’s been doing most of his adult life. He also spends time hiking, bicycling, reading and listening to many kinds of music.

Congratulations and best wishes to a dedicated worker and warrior!