This week’s Award of Excellence cover story on Col. Gregg F. Martin, chief Army combat engineer in Iraq, was reported and written by Associate Editor Tom Sawyer. Sawyer had become intrigued about the work of combat engineers when he reported on the emergency construction of runways in a remote corner of Afghanistan in 2001.

WITNESS Sawyer interviews Lt. Gen. William Wallace in Baghdad with Martin looking on. (Photo courtesy of 130th Engineer Brigade)

The engineers’ role in the troop buildup in the Persian Gulf was the obvious follow-up. The now-famous media embed program of the Dept. of Defense allowed reporters to do just what Sawyer had in mind. Tom made his way to Kuwait with a helmet bought at a Manhattan Army Surplus store and a ballistic vest borrowed from a state-trooper inlaw. He was mustered into the Army’s 130th Engineer Brigade and dropped into its headquarters command tent as Martin and his staff were furiously engaged in preparations for the invasion.

"I had no idea how pivotal the 130th Engineer Brigade was in the scheme of things at the time, but I was amazed by the story unfolding and the warm way I was accepted by the soldiers," Sawyer says. "Col. Martin handed me over to his Command Sergeant Major, Sergio Riddle. He told Riddle to make room for me in his humvee and take me everywhere he went. His driver gave me a sandbag to sit on and another to go under my feet to block mine blasts, and by the second day I had a rolling office and home."

The colonel’s "brain dumps," where he talked for hours about the job the engineers were doing, convinced Sawyer of the significance of Martin’s service to the Army, the construction industry and the nation. Sawyer returned to Iraq in January to see Martin transfer his operations to a replacement brigade, and he traveled with him around Iraq for a last review of work under way.

Sawyer took many of the photos that appear in the cover story. Art Director Guy Lawrence used them as sources to create the cover painting (left).