Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Kaufman Recognizes Great Federal Employee, Joe Connaughton

June 18, 2009

   I have spoken here a few times already about Federal employees and the great work they perform. I am honored to be in a position to come here and do it again. I enjoy sharing stories in this Chamber about excellent public servants.

   These stories are only but a few pieces in the vivid mosaic of our Federal workforce. The stories are exemplary, not exceptional. These are regular people doing a great job.

   The real story of our Federal employees--that of their dedication, their talents, and their important contributions--needs to be told.

   Service in government is characterized by sacrifice. Many of our Federal employees wear a uniform and sacrifice on the battlefield. Others work in civilian jobs but still make great sacrifices by working long hours and foregoing opportunities in the private sector, such as substantially better pay and bonuses. Their bonus, as I have said before, is the satisfaction of having served their country.

   Today I wish to speak about a man who risked his life during wartime and then spent nearly three decades working as a civilian engineer for the U.S. Army Missile Command.

   Joe Connaughton, a native of Tuscaloosa, AL, had already distinguished himself during the Second World War. He served as a navigator and bombardier on 47 missions in both the European and Pacific theaters. Joe was decorated with three air medals and four battle stars, and his unit received the Croix de Guerre for support provided to the French Expeditionary Force during the Allied offensive in Italy.

   After returning home, Joe took advantage of the GI bill to pursue a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Alabama. He began working for the U.S. Army Missile Command near Huntsville in the late 1950s.

   For 27 years, Joe worked for the Army Missile Command's Research, Development, and Engineering Division at Redstone Arsenal. He and his engineering team helped develop and perfect weapons systems critical to maintaining our military edge during the Cold War. This included the Lance, Hellfire, and THAAD missile propulsion systems.

   When Joe and his colleagues were working on the Hellfire missile, which is carried primarily by the Apache attack helicopter, there was a problem when the TV-based guidance system encountered difficulties in smoke and bad weather. A missile whose own propulsion method gives off a smoke plume cannot be accurately directed if the smoke hinders its guidance system. The engineering team on which Joe worked developed a smokeless propellant, which greatly enhanced the missile's accuracy.

   For this achievement, Joe and his team earned the Army Missile Command's Scientific and Engineering Award in 1980.

   When the Hellfire entered service in 1984, it was intended for use against Soviet tanks in a future Cold War conflict. But with the collapse of communism in Europe just a few years later, some began to doubt whether its development--and that of similar systems--was worth the cost.

   However, with the laser guidance and missile propulsion system developed by the civilian engineers at Redstone Arsenal, the Hellfire proved its worth during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

   In that conflict, the Army and Marine Corps used the Hellfire to disable the Iraqi air defenses in its initial strike, quickly gaining air supremacy. Apache helicopters launched Hellfire missiles against a myriad of targets, Full Document: Congressional Record Full Textdemonstrating the usefulness and effectiveness of this new weapon.

   This guided missile system, perfected in Alabama by Joe and other Federal employees, helped spare civilian lives in Iraq and ensured a rapid coalition victory. They continue to play a major role today, as Predator drones carry Hellfire missiles on missions over Afghanistan.

   Our military depends on countless civilian engineers just like Joe. Without their hard work and important contributions, we could not maintain the military strength we have today. They are all--every one of them--Government workers, and they work on bases and in research facilities throughout the country, including at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

   These men and women wake up each day and go to work knowing that they directly participate in keeping America safe. The technologies they develop remain at the forefront of our fight against al-Qaida and other extremist groups.

   We must never forget that they, along with the rest of our civilian government employees, enable the military to do its job.

   Some give their lives for our country. Others give their lives to it. All of them demonstrate this greatest hallmark of patriotism; which is sacrifice.

   Joe could have made more money in the private sector. Doubtless, he could have moved from the Army Missile Command to work for a private military contractor, the same people he worked with on a daily basis in developing these systems. But he didn't. His priority was making a contribution, not making money.

   In some ways, we have lost sight of this sense of purpose, which is the engine of our American spirit. I am greatly encouraged that President Obama has called for a new generation to take up the torch of public service through careers in government. He has called on us, once again, to make sacrifices in order to ensure the future safety and prosperity of this country we all love so dearly.

   Our Federal employees, like Joe, feel a sense of duty to serve this great Nation. It is what sustained him--a 20-year-old airman from Alabama--over Italy, France, Yugoslavia, China and Japan. It is what sustained him as an engineer when he returned home to Alabama and worked to build America's defenses. It is love of country. It is service above self.

   Joe embodies this spirit, and I know he has passed it on to the next generation. I can see it firsthand, because his son, Jeff, is my chief of staff--a great Federal employee and a great person.

   Families across America will gather this Sunday to mark Father's Day and to celebrate the important bond between fathers and their children. On this occasion I am reminded of my own father--who spent most of his career as a government employee--and the important lessons he taught me about the value of public service.

   I also think about fathers throughout America who have chosen--along with so many mothers--to dedicate their careers to serving the public. They are powerful role models, not only for their own daughters and sons, but for all young Americans who want a chance to shape this country's future.

   I hope all my colleagues will join me in honoring the sacrifices and the achievements of all our Federal employees.

   I want to wish Joe a happy Father's Day, and I extend the same well wishes to fathers across the country, and especially to those serving overseas or with a loved one serving overseas.

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