Military commanders present coins to individuals who accomplish something particularly special or go beyond the call of duty, and Brig. Gen. Kendall P. Cox is no different. He has handed out many coins during his career as a military leader, but none have experienced a journey quite like the one he awarded last summer.
Cox helped lead the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' recovery efforts last year after Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coast. While touring the impacted area and monitoring some of the Corps' missions, he came across a woman who had volunteered to distribute drinking water. As a gesture of appreciation for her service, he presented her with a Southwestern Division coin for excellence. Little did he know where that coin would wind up next.
On Nov. 14, 2008, the volunteer packed along that same coin with some her personal belongings for a trip as part of her next job assignment: a launch aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour. You see, that volunteer was Navy Capt. Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, a NASA astronaut. She and her crew traveled to the International Space Station to deliver equipment and supplies and perform maintenance and repairs - and found time to take a few pictures of her coin. In all, the coin spent 15 days, 20 hours, 29 minutes, 37 secs in orbit around the world.
Upon returning to Earth, Stefanyshyn-Piper sent a short note and a special gift to Cox. "I am returning the unit coin that was given to me by BG Cox," she wrote in a note to the Commander. "I know you don't normally return this item, but in this case he may want it back based on where it has been."
She attached two photos from space showing the coin perched in windows of her spacecraft, with planet Earth in the background.
"I'm going to send her another coin as soon as I get a photo to send with it," said Cox.
Though his photos may not be as out-of-this-world as Stefanyshyn-Piper's.