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Army Corps workers back in U.S.

By Alex Bridges

Workers employed in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers area office remain safe at home after their evacuation from Egypt this past week.

The nine employees of the Middle East District evacuated from Egypt on orders from the State Department, said Ralph Hensley, the executive secretary to Col. Jon Christensen, commander of the district headquartered in Frederick County.

"We do have 100 percent accountability of all of our Department of the Army civilians that were working in Egypt, and we are continuing to monitor the situation and work to complete the projects that we have in the country as we can," Hensley said by phone Friday.

Evacuation of the district's staff began as soon as the agency received the State Department order on June 28, Hensley said.

"They're here in Winchester or back to their home of record," Hensley noted.

The State Department on Wednesday ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and family members from Egypt "due to the ongoing political and social unrest." The department also issued a warning to U.S. citizens to delay travel to Egypt. The warning superseded a similar alert issued June 28, according to information from the State Department website.

"Political unrest, which intensified prior to the constitutional referendum in December 2012 and the anniversary in 2013 of Egypt's 25th January Revolution, is likely to worsen in the near future due to unrest focused on the first anniversary of the President's assumption of office," a statement from the department reads. "Demonstrations have, on occasion, degenerated into violent clashes between police and protesters, and between protesters supporting different factions, resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage."

The statement notes that demonstrators have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails while security forces used tear gas and other crowd-control measures on participants. The department advised that violent protests occurred in major metropolitan areas such as downtown Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. A U.S. citizen was killed June 28 during a demonstration in Alexandria, the statement notes.

The State Department issued a similar evacuation order for civilian workers in the Middle East District and other agencies when destructive and violent anti-government protests broke out in Egypt in February 2011.

"We've done the same thing here," Hensley said.

District personnel in Egypt or any other country at the approval of the State Department also must leave if ordered by the agency, Hensley explained. The department may order personnel to shelter in place, avoid certain areas or evacuate, Hensley added.

"We're under the auspices of the embassy as far as being able to be in the country," Hensley said.

When the district personnel can return to their work in Egypt remains unclear. The State Department will advise district officials when the workers can go back to the country, Hensley said. Staff will continue to work on projects as they can from their home of record or the district office.

The Army Corps designs and builds facilities for U.S. forces deployed in the central command area of operations. The Corps manages the operations and maintenance service contracts for military customers. The agency also supports humanitarian assistance and counter-narcotics projects funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Middle East District covers the Army Corps of Engineers operations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkans and other areas as required, according to information on the agency website. The headquarters just outside Winchester supports Corps activities in the region. The district also has personnel stationed permanently in field offices overseas.

District staff includes project managers and engineers, design engineers, contract specialists, construction representatives and support personnel.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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