ECS National Harbor Office Operations Manager John Hicks starts his day just like any other employee: coffee and e-mails, meetings with his team, checking his To-Do list. But not long ago, John started his days in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Kandahar isn’t the only barren landscape that John has served in during his tenure as a combat engineer with the Army National Guard. He also experienced the shifting sands and relentless heat of southern Iraq when he served in Naziriyah in 2006.
John received an ROTC scholarship and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Upon his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, he joined A Company, 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion in the Virginia Army National Guard as a combat engineer. At the same time, he started his employment with ECS as an Assistant Project Engineer.
John’s first deployment was in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Stationed in Naziriyah, Iraq, he served as Platoon Leader responsible for two radically different functions. First, he was responsible for civil military operations, which involved him going out to speak with local sheiks and village leaders to document their rebuilding requests. He coordinated approximately $1 million in reconstruction projects, including schools, water lines and irrigation canals, transformers to provide electricity, and roadways. The other half of John’s time was spent leading route clearance convoys. This was an even more dangerous assignment. The team picked up vehicles already destroyed and took them to a base, and cleared improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the route between Diwaniyah and the Kuwait/Iraq border – approximately 300 miles of roadway. John said, “Our convoy had a close call with an IED while we were clearing for another convoy.” The IED hit one of their vehicles, but luckily they sustained only minor injuries.
John returned home in March 2008. He rejoined ECS as a Construction Services Manager and continued serving in the National Guard. He was promoted to Company Executive Officer and was awarded a Bronze Star. He spent the next two years working with his team to get their equipment and personnel ready for their next deployment.
In June 2010, John was assigned to Brigade Headquarters for the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, where he served as the Engineer Plans Officer. In May 2011, he was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for training as an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO). John explained, “IEDs can be set off using remote control devices. An EWO manages the equipment that jams the devices and prevents them from exploding. In the field, the EWO is responsible for making sure there’s enough equipment and that it’s working properly on both convoy trucks and at base checkpoints.”
In June 2011, John was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to put those newly-acquired skills to good use. He and his team were scheduled to go into the mountains of Afghanistan in just two days when he was given the stunning news that his team would be leaving without him. He was assigned to remain in Kandahar to serve as the 116th Brigade Liaison Officer for Division Headquarters. John reported to the Regional Command South Commanding Officer – a two-star general –on all brigade activities, primarily focused on facilitating Special Forces (both US and Coalition Forces) capture/kill operations for the 10th Mountain and 82nd Airborne Divisions in his brigade’s area of operation. He served in this capacity until January 2012, when his unit returned to the states. John was promoted to Brigade Engineer responsible for engineering activities for 2,000 people in the area of operations and was awarded a second Bronze Star for service during his deployment.
After all the danger, excitement, and responsibilities John has faced during his deployments, it may seem like his work as ECS National Harbor Office Operations Manager might not engage him at the same level. However, John takes his professional responsibilities just as much to heart as he did when he was serving overseas. It’s just the kind of guy he is. And so – the rest of us here at ECS want to take just a brief moment to recognize his service and say – “Thanks, John.”