By ROGER TEEL, 20th Support Command (CBRNE)July 23, 2009
Five-year-old Cameron Jessen had a great time June 19. Wearing a subdued, olive-colored cap with explosive ordnance disposal lettering, Cameron and his cousin Michael Miller toyed with some sophisticated EOD equipment. They manipulated the controls of a $200,000 robot, using its mechanical grip to pick up a simulated pipe bomb before sending it in herky-jerky, back-and-forth movements around the training bay. Watching the controller's video monitors, they giggled as members of their Family danced out of their way. They peered under doors and peeked around corners with handheld EOD surveillance equipment.
"Is this a robot factory'" Cameron asked, surrounded by EOD specialists from the 22d Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort).
The Soldiers were showing him a good time. The boys played with the tools of the EOD trade, tools that Cameron's father had used on the job.
Sergeant 1st Class Kevin P. Jessen died in Iraq in March 2006 while attempting to defuse an improvised explosive device. He had been assigned to the 22d Chemical Battalion shortly before volunteering for his second deployment as an EOD team leader.
Two days before Father's Day, Cameron and his Family came to Aberdeen Proving Ground to formally dedicate the 22d Chemical Battalion's renovated conference room in the name of his father.
Cameron and his mother, Carrie Jessen, traveled from their home in Mexico, N.Y. They were joined by Jessen's sisters, Tracy Miller and Kelly Mulvahill, from Paragould and Greenwood, Ark., respectively.
Also attending from New York were Carrie's mother, Laurie, and stepfather, Doug Raymond, her sister Niki, her aunt Lisa Wood and Family friend Mary Barnes. Coming from Arkansas were Tracy Miller's children, Michael and Crystal and future son-in-law Alex.
"It's overwhelming," Carrie said. "I knew they were working hard on the ceremony, and to see it today... it's a fitting tribute to Kevin. It was overwhelming and incredibly generous of people who didn't even know him. It was very special."
The ceremony was coordinated by Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Martinez, who also narrated the event.
After being escorted to their seats by Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, commander, 20th Support Command (CBRNE), and Lt. Col. Matthew Mingus, commander, 22d Chemical Battalion (TE), Carrie and Cameron were called forward.
Mingus presented The Order of the Dragon award to Cameron, in honor of his father. He presented the Carol Ann Watson Award (Order of the Dragon spouse award) to Carrie. The awards recognize "Dragon Soldiers" and their spouses for their integrity and moral character, professional competence and for having made lasting contributions to the promotion of the Chemical Corps.
Both awards were signed by the chief of the Chemical Corps, Col. Leslie Smith.
Colonel Daniel Chartier, EOD officer from 20th SUPCOM (CBRNE), presented the Ordnance Corps' Order of Samuel Sharpe to Cameron, in honor of his father. Chartier also presented U.S. Army Ordnance Corps Association Keeper of the Flame Awards for faithful and enduring service to Carrie and Jessen's sisters, Tracy and Kelly.
Martinez said a wreath of flowers was placed on Jessen's grave in the Palermo Cemetery, Palermo, N.Y., on behalf of the members of the 22nd Chemical Battalion.
In his comments, Snow quoted President Abraham Lincoln and told Cameron that his father was "one of America's better angels."
"Cameron was really impressed by the medals," his mother said. "I was so proud of him during the ceremony. He tends to be an extremely active little boy so I was a little worried about how long he would hold still, but he did great."
After the ceremony, battalion Soldiers formed two facing columns to guide the Family to the conference room. Carrie and Cameron went first, stopping to shake hands with Soldiers while being applauded every step of the way.
After Cameron and his Family cut the yellow ribbon, guests entered the conference room. They were treated to a buffet lunch contributed by the Veterans of Foreign War Post of Rosedale, Md. The tables of food were prepared by the volunteer efforts of Soldiers and Family members from the battalion Family Readiness Group, coordinated by Marcella Heilig.
Jessen Family photos flashed overhead on two flat-screen televisions, many of them showing Cameron and his dad.
"He's good. He's good," Carrie said when asked about Cameron's state of mind. "He'll be done with kindergarten next week and he's excited about the summer and going into first grade.
"He's a good kid," she continued. "He's starting to understand a little more about what happened and that his dad's not here. He has some questions, and we talk about it. You just try to process it the best way you can, and handle it the best way you know how.
"He's going to be a different kid, but hopefully I can make the right choices and help him to grow the right way," she added.
"Cameron loves the Army. He loves anything that has to do with the Army. He understands that his dad was a Soldier," she continued. "He's a little scared, a little confused. At one point he thought being in the Army meant that you were... he just associated the Army and death together. So it's been a process for me to try to work him through that, you know, and say not everybody dies from it but unfortunately daddy did."
Carrie and Kevin met 10 years ago.
"We met online in a little chatroom. We hit it off and got married and started moving around. And then we had Cameron," she explained.
Carrie said she's still moving forward - scholastically and professionally.
"I'm in the process of going to school for a degree in child psychology. I have a few more years, but eventually I'll get my master's," she said.
Jessen's sister, Kelly, talked about growing up with Kevin in Arkansas.
"Kevin was always inquisitive, and loved learning things... a lot like Cameron," she said as she watched Cameron operate the robot.
"Kevin loved guns," she added. "He loved explosives, firecrackers and was always looking for interesting ways to blow things up. It was a no-brainer that he went where he did."
Lieutenant Colonel Chad Bauld was the operations officer at 22d Chemical Battalion when the unit received a request from higher headquarters.
"The 52nd Ordnance Brigade was short EOD team leaders coming up to deployment, so we ended up sending five Soldiers from the 22d and four from the 20th SUPCOM to fill their shortages," Bauld said.
"Staff Sergeant Jessen [who was promoted posthumously] was one of them. He was new to 22d Chem, having previously been at the 748th Ordnance Company at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He volunteered because the unit he had just left was one of the units that had a shortage.
"I met him during his in-processing and he had a lot of training to go through. He had a very short window from the time he got to us to the time he actually deployed. My initial impression was that he had been there before and volunteered for the mission," Bauld said.
"He was a good leader, a good trainer. He was passionate about what he did and actually wanted to be with his buds, the Soldiers he had trained with. Loyalty to his unit and to his peers, his team members, was paramount to him," he added.
"My brother was just so nice to everybody," Kelly said. "He cared about people. I hear stories from his buddies in the Army about how nice he was and how he was fun to be around. That's how he was as a kid, too."
"My dad's been nice to me," Cameron said at the end of a very short interview. "My dad was proud of me because I was resting by myself."
As he and his cousin bounded about the EOD training bay, five-year-old Cameron Jessen wasn't resting at all. He was busy helping everyone there remember his dad.