DEFLECTING BOMBS AND ATTENTION
COURTESY OF SLAVENS FAMILY
Maj. Chris Slavens receives a Bronze Star at an award ceremony at Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq, in early December.
Soldier modest about Bronze Star
A humble innovator devises a way to armor Humvees and credits the mechanics
He mentioned it almost in passing during a telephone call with his wife. Sent photos of the award ceremony only after being persuaded.
According to Maj. Chris Slavens, being awarded the Bronze Star -- one of the military's highest wartime honors -- is nothing to be particularly boastful about. His family and colleagues, of course, disagree.
The maintenance officer with the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Brigade, who is stationed at Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq, was awarded the medal on Dec. 10, for figuring out how to mass-produce and apply armor to the underside of Humvees to protect them from roadside bombs, or "improvised explosive devices."*
Roadside bombs have killed dozens in Iraq --including several Hawaii soldiers --since the war started in 2003.
Slaven's idea, which he came up with in early March, has the potential to save hundreds of lives. Already, armor has been applied to the sides and under-carriage of about 130 of the 29th Brigade's Humvees.
"As far as the award goes, my reaction was that I felt embarrassed and that I truly didn't deserve it," Slavens said, in a recent e-mail to the Star-Bulletin. "The heroes of this plan were all the welders and mechanics who figured out how to make an idea work. Otherwise, it would just be an idea."
Slavens said the Army has armored Humvees, but does not have additional armor kits for specific areas of the combat vehicle, including its under-belly, which are susceptible to roadside bombs. He did not say whether his idea has caught on in other areas of Iraq.
COURTESY OF SLAVENS FAMILY
Slavens, a maintenance officer with the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Brigade, got the medal after coming up with a way to apply additional armor to Humvees to protect them from roadside bombs. His medal and certificate are shown, above.
The news of Slavens' award was a bright spot for the soldier's family this holiday season. The soldier's wife and two children, ages 7 and 4, along with his parents have been struggling to get through Christmas and New Year's with him so far away.
Slavens' parents even canceled their annual Christmas brunch, where the soldier would always be the "omelet maker," cooking made-to-order omelets for more than 30 family members and friends.
"It was so hard for his wife to think about being here without him," said Slavens' mother, Cathy. "A lot of things are unspoken."
Slavens is set to return to the islands after a one-year deployment in Iraq sometime this month. The exact date has yet to be set.
The guardsman, who joined the reserves in 1986, said the hardest part of being away was knowing his kids were growing up -- celebrating birthdays and holidays, trudging through childhood's dilemmas -- without him.
"The long hours and stress are all part of the job, but nothing replaces time lost with family," he said. "When I left, my older son, Cullen, liked watching cartoons. Now, he likes to watch pro football. I cope by calling and e-mailing when I can."
Slavens is still unsure what he'll do once he returns to the islands. "First and foremost," he said, "I will go back to my most important job -- that of husband, Dad, son, brother and neighbor. After working 12 to 18 hour days, 7 days a week for the last year and a half, it is hard to imagine returning to a 9-to-5 lifestyle."
Thursday, January 5, 2006
» Hawaii National Guard Maj. Chris Slavens received a Bronze Star in Iraq for figuring out how to mass-produce and apply armor to the sides and underbellies of Humvees to protect them from roadside bombs. He also analyzed which vehicles should get the armor. An article Monday on Page A3 said Slavens got the award for "devising a way of adding armor" to the Humvees. It did not make clear that the initial idea for the armor came from Washington-based Army engineers.