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DynCorp deaths in Iraq hit home for local police chief

ATWATER -- Reed Schmidt did the same work last year that three men were doing when they were killed Wednesday in Iraq.

Schmidt, the Atwater police chief, spent a year training police officers for DynCorp International in Iraq in 2004. Three men, including a Fairmont native, were doing the same work for DynCorp when they were killed by an improvised explosive device Wednesday while driving near Basra.

According to the Associated Press, killed were Richard Thomas Hickman, 52, of Cave Spring, Ga., and Roland Carroll Barvels, 42, a Minnesota native living in Aberdeen, S.D. Both were members of DynCorp's police training mission.

The attack injured another American employee and an Iraqi translator, DynCorp spokesman Gregory Lagana told the AP on Thursday. Another officer was killed in Iraq on Monday, and the company has also lost five workers in Afghanistan since March 2003, Lagana said.

The AP reported that 26 DynCorp employees have been killed since the start of the war in Iraq.

Schmidt said the work, which involved traveling throughout Iraq, was dangerous.

"We had, to begin with, a lot of attacks on the hotels that we were staying at. As far as traveling, there were a lot of car bombs," he said. When staying at military bases or camps, he said, there were times when mortars were shot into the camps. It wasn't rare to have gunfire at his convoy.

But, he said, he never felt unsafe.

"You were always prepared," he said.

Insurgents sought to attack American contractors.

"During the time we were there, the contractors were a main target," he said.

They dealt with the realities of war every day.

Schmidt spent Thanksgiving 2004 with his eight-man convoy on the side of the road, waiting for American soldiers to dismantle an improvised explosive device. However, he said, they traveled around in well-armored Suburban trucks.

Schmidt said that, overall, he felt comfortable in Iraq. He spent a lot of time in certain areas and said he got to know many people and children in the area.

Schmidt's co-worker, a member of the Denver SWAT team, was ambushed and killed in Baghdad while the two were stationed in Iraq.

Schmidt said that the man had said something that stuck with him.

"'I know that someday I'm going to die, we all are going to die someday,'" the man told Schmidt. "'I'd like to do something worthwhile when I do it.'"

Schmidt added, "We were all doing something that we though was worthwhile -- something that we could contribute to our country and their country."

Schmidt said though reports from Iraq make things sound like there is little progress, good things are happening there.

"It's sad that we lose officers and good military there," he said. "But there are a lot of good things going on there, and we shouldn't forget that."