Proud father, dedicated husband, eternal optimist, and totally selfless.
These were some of the words used to describe former Louisville District employee Jim Lockard during a Defense of Freedom Medal ceremony held May 26 inside the Romano Mazzoli Federal Building.
On May 2, 2008, Jim was traveling to a project site along the Bayji to Baghdad Pipeline Exclusion Zone when his convoy was attacked by insurgents. The complex attack included an Improvised Explosive Device and small arms fire. Jim died of his injuries at a nearby combat support hospital.
Jim, according to his former commander in Iraq Col. Michael Pfenning, was led to the Middle East by his desire to secure a better future for his family.
“There was nothing in Jim’s life that was more important to him than his two daughters, Danielle and Nicole, and his wife, Maria,” Pfenning said during the ceremony. “He was there in Iraq to make the world a better place for them.”
Jim’s work in Iraq impacted the lives of thousands of Iraqis. He managed the construction, supply, and staffing of 45 medical clinics. Iraqis had little to no medical, dental, or other health services in these 45 communities prior to the clinics’ completion.
Jim also managed the Bayji to Baghdad pipeline project that restored reliable oil distribution between northern and central Iraq. His duties included developing the local partnership agreements between Iraqi ministries, local provincial ministers, and tribal leaders. But preserving local relationships in a war zone and performing the typical duties of a project manager required Jim to spend a lot of time on the road visiting various sites. And, it was dangerous.
But that was his duty, and Jim knew it.
Maria, Danielle, Nicole, and other members of Jim’s family were at the ceremony to accept the medal—the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart—on Jim’s behalf. Following the ceremony, the family took an elevator up to the executive office and talked with members of the press.
The family continues to cope with the loss of a father, husband, brother, and son. They do what most families do under similar circumstances—they remember.
“We get through every day as best we can,” Maria said. “The family and friends support helps. We look through pictures, and going through all that is great. We have a lot of great memories. We were married for 22 years. There are some great cherished memories that no one can take away.”
Jim tried to put his family’s mind at ease before he left and while he was serving in Iraq. But no matter how the situation in Iraq is portrayed on TV, it is still a very dangerous place.
“He would say, ‘I’m always safe and you’re never going to hear a story about me.’” Maria said.
Jim eased the fears of Danielle, 17, and Nicole, 14, by telling them about the progress being made in Iraq, and about the people who were trying to rebuild their lives. And, there was the story about the donkey, too.
“He was always light-hearted about everything that happened,” Danielle said. “…I hear the stories you don’t hear on the news. There was a story of a donkey that had escaped and was living in their area. They named it (pause) I don’t know if I can say it. But he would just tell me about his experiences. And it was really neat to hear. He made it relatable to me.”
Danielle and Nicole talked about father and daughter camping trips they’d take. Jim didn’t care if they wore their bathing suits the entire time, nor did he mind the girls eating marshmallows for breakfast. And, they’ll never forget the night skies.
“He would point to the stars and teach us Orion, and that’s something me and Danielle will always remember,” Nicole said. “We can always look up in the stars and point out Orion's belt. That’s one of the best memories.”
Since their father’s death, Danielle and Nicole have experienced several fleeting moments of their dad’s presence.
“I see signs of him everyday,” Danielle said. “One of his favorite bugs was a dragon fly. Last May I saw them everywhere”
“He also loved owls a lot,” Nicole added. “A couple of months ago Danielle came to me and said that an owl outside her window was really bugging her by whoooing. I just sat down on her bed and said, “Ya know, Dad really loved owls. It was definitely Dad.”