HENSLEY LAKE, Calif. (May 14, 2009) -- It could've been just another maintenance chore. But for Hidden Dam maintenance leaderman Dale Dawson, the flaking paint in the dam's control tower was an opportunity.

Of his four-man staff, three were veterans, himself included. As he prepared for the project, his son, U.S. Army Spc. Angelo Dixon, was serving in Iraq. Former sailor Greg Hutchison had four sons serving, three sailors and one Soldier. Two of them had served in Iraq. What better colors to repaint with than red, white and blue'

"Everything we do here, we try to do better than we've done before," said Dawson. So, with the paint project, he thought, "Let's go all out."

And so a routine maintenance project became a tribute to service. Dawson designed the paint scheme, crowned with a framed American flag. Then he turned the job over to his youngest staff member, Matt Key, as a training opportunity. Starting in late 2007, Key painted in short bursts. Ventilation was limited, and because of dampness, the paint took longer than usual to dry. Six months later, though, the project was complete, and Key had a new job skill.

But the new paint isn't just a tribute: it's also functional. Components are color coded. Water pipes are blue, hydraulic features red, and the rest, white. The epoxy paint, painstakingly applied, is corrosion resistant.

"They did an awesome job," said Phil Smith, park manager at Hensley Lake, whose staff operates the dam. "Their dedication to the park - and the nation - is unrivaled."

While Dawson says he's pleased with the compliments he's received from Smith and the Sacramento District Commander, U.S. Army Col. Tom Chapman, his proudest moment was showing it to his son. "He loved it," said Dawson. "I felt like a proud father."

Hutchison says he also looks forward to showing it to his son, U.S. Army Pfc. Ernest White, when he returns from Iraq. "Not many people see it," said Hutchison, "but for me, it's the crown jewel of the lake."

The paint's been dry for more than a year now, but the tribute is far from over, Dawson says. There's always something new to paint, and maybe Ernest will bring back a new flag from Iraq. "We're always looking for ways to add to it," Dawson said.