Four trips to war zone…and Claypool says he’d go again

Published 11:30 pm Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ed Claypool returned home in December with an amiable outlook on his job for someone fresh off 18 months in a war zone — his fourth trip.

He’d go back — just not for so long.

“If I get an e-mail asking me to go,” Claypool explains. “But, my wife has given me a timeline this time.”

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Claypool, 62, is among 80 civilian employees of the Corps of Engineers’ Vicksburg District who have supplemented forces in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003 and 27 who have gone at least twice. Eight are in Afghanistan now with two others expected to join them, according to the District.

His four tours of duty since 2004 have taken him to Iraq and Afghanistan as a technical adviser on building bases to military specifications and, most recently, in the District’s Real Estate Division to help secure property to build bases in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

For the last six months of his recent tour, Claypool worked for CJ Engineering, the military’s construction arm in Afghanistan. It meant moving legal documents to contract appraisers and escorting them onto potential locations to speed up information between a landowner and the Real Estate Division so both sides could agree to a rental or purchase price. Doing the job daily in a war zone without a weapon for personal protection, typical for most civilians in the military, didn’t faze him.

“I feel at home and at ease in those situations,” he said. “If things get tight, we just have to react. It does scare my wife, though.”

Most bases were built on land owned by the Afghan government. Living quarters tended to be in homes rented from residents, he said.

“For different U.S. entities where they roomed or boarded, we would rent houses or buildings,” Claypool said.

Three previous tours were to Iraq, the longest of which lasted 37 months, where a turn at quality assurance meant Claypool made sure every corner of Victory Base Complex around Baghdad International Airport was built and maintained to Army standards, right down to the proper concrete mix to cover repaired water pipes.

“Quality assurance, contract representative, engineering technician — all these are one in the same,” he said. “I had all three titles, but I still did the same work.”

Overseas Contingency Operations, where Corps personnel may volunteer for such technical assistance, is a way for proven staff to remain involved with technical parts of broad missions in Afghanistan, where 91,000 U.S. service members remain.

Claypool, a Clinton native, lives in Vicksburg with wife, Dolly. They have five daughters. A civilian employee of the District since 1979, Claypool graduated from Clinton High School has a degree in animal husbandry from Mississippi State University.

“It’s a different society that you have to work with, and it gives individuals such as Ed broader experience to assist the Corps,” said public affairs chief Maj. Robert Wolfenden.

The payoff is simple for Claypool. In Baghdad, fixing the water was a source of accomplishment. In Kabul, it was a chance to ensure a system of renting structures from Afghan citizens, often elderly.

“It was helping Afghan people try to get through the rental system to where they got paid,” he said.

If asked, a fifth tour would be a snap, Claypool says.

“You know, God made everybody different. If I had my choice, it would be outside (work). But I like working for the military.”