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EOD Airman wins NCO of the Year award

Airman raises money in spare time for EOD nonprofit

Staff Sgt. Mark Walker, an explosive ordnance disposal craftsman with the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD Flight, was recently named the 62nd Airlift Wing’s 2010 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. /Ingrid Barrentine

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(62nd AW PA) - For most Americans, the Academy Award winning movie The Hurt Locker was just that - a movie. But for Staff Sgt. Mark Walker, it's his life.

Sergeant Walker, an explosive ordnance disposal craftsman with the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD Flight, spent part of 2010 diffusing bombs and improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, experiencing realistic scenarios depicted in the only Iraq or Afghanistan war movie ever to receive an Academy Award.

The Airman's role in making Afghanistan a safer place for both U.S. military members and the Afghan people helped earn him the McChord Field 62nd Airlift Wing's 2010 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year honors, awarded last month by the eighth Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Sam Parish, during the wing's annual awards banquet.

At the banquet, Sergeant Walker received a C-17 model with his name engraved on it and small monetary gifts from local companies in the surrounding communities. His wife got a parking pass for the commissary and base exchange.

"She was really, really happy about that," he said.

The 62nd AW looks holistically at Airmen to determine who gets top honors. Such qualities include leadership style and effectiveness, work performance, professionalism and community service. For Sergeant Walker, that encompasses a lot.

Sergeant Walker loves physical training, and can't get enough of it. The 32-year-old runs in many races around the area, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord triathlons and last year's half marathon, in which he finished fourth in his age group.

The former youth pastor is very involved in his church, Olympic View Baptist Church in University Place, where he said he receives faith guidance and healing for himself and his wife, Susan, and three children: Kaden, 8; Addie, 5; and Asher, 2.

"The support of my wife has been huge for me, " Sergeant Walker said.

When he's not helping out in church, he is navigating the Puget Sound's waterways to find the state's 50 or more camp sites that can only be accessed by a human-powered boat. And if that doesn't keep him busy enough, Sergeant Walker is fundraising for the Wounded Warrior EOD Organization, a nonprofit that raises money and resources for wounded EOD technicians.

During his deployment to Afghanistan last year, he and other EOD servicemembers raised more than $9,000 for the EOD nonprofit by hosting a decathlon.

Sergeant Walker also makes ceremonial "hell boxes" that he auctions off, and donated $8,400 in 2010 to the EOD Memorial Foundation at the Naval School, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

"This was a good year," Sergeant Walker said.

His deployment to Afghanistan from September 2009 to April 2010 didn't start off great. Two EOD Airmen were killed and Sergeant Walker was called in as a replacement for one of them. He said the newly assembled team discussed what would happen if any one of them were next. The concern wasn't about their fate, but their families' futures.

"All of us are okay with dying, but not okay with leaving our families behind, dealing with the uncertainty," said Sergeant Walker.

Through his three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Sergeant Walker has disabled more than 200 bombs; he's lost the exact count. It's not easy to put the bomb suit on and walk up to a suspicious package, or device, or car, wondering if this could be your last moment on the planet,

To get through it, he has his faith and friends.

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