Local hero visits home
Bronze Star given to Bartow native
• Master Seargent George Price Jr. says he was just doing his job
By Carol McLeod
He’s been in the Air Force for 18 years and he has what he describes as, “the best job in the world.”
As part of the Air Force’s 45th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bomb Squad, he’s met U.S. presidents and other dignitaries, traveled the world and is one of only 14 people in the world who get as close as possible to the Space Shuttle when it lifts off.
He gets to work with top-of-the-line sophisticated robots.
He is George Price, Jr., a 1988 graduate of Louisville High School who grew up in Bartow.
And he is a hero, though he doesn't necessarily see himself that way.
He was recently awarded the Bronze Star, a medal offered to any military service member for heroic or meritorious service, for what he calls "just doing his job." Sitting in his mother’s living room during a visit home, he described the incident that led to his receiving this prestigious award. “That particular day,” he said, “it was a normal day, if you can say any day over there is normal.”
Over there in this case is Iraq. It was the third call of the day.
Someone had found an IED, or improvised explosive device, on a road.
Price and his team headed out to the site.
Price sent a robot out to the bomb, not realizing at the time that the bomber was still in the area, watching. There were irrigation canals on either side of the road, Price said. The bomber was hiding in some reeds and detonated the bomb.
“I sprang up,” Price said, “and did a 360 search, another 360.
I caught him out of the corner of my eye.”
Price gave chase and caught the insurgent.
“I was mad, too, ‘cause it had blown up my robot,” he said.
The team sprayed the man’s hands with a special compound that turns the skin pink if it’s been in contact with explosives. “He sprayed positive,” Price said. He paused in his story and looked at his mother, quietly sitting nearby.
“This is the first time you’ve heard this story, isn’t it, Mom?” he said.
She just smiled and nodded.
When asked what she thinks of her son and his job, she said softly, “I just leave him in the hands of the Lord. Every man has his job. I do worry about him sometimes.”
Besides sweeping for devices prior to the arrival of a dignitary and defusing bombs, Price and his unit also investigate explosions.
“We try and reenact the scene,” he said.
Price, home for a visit prior to leaving for his sixth mission to Iraq, addressed the situation in that country as reported in the popular media.
“Only the bad things get reported,” he said.
“We do a lot of good over there.” He said there are times when he thinks he’s making a difference and then there are the other days when he and his team go to a site post-blast and see the remains of people who’ve been killed. “It’s a tough situation to be in,” he said.
Price said he and his team pray every day before leaving on a mission; they pray when they return; they pray at the end of the day. “There are no atheists in a foxhole,” he said.
He said he’s received other recognition, but receiving the Bronze Star was a “welcome surprise.”
He has had many rewarding experiences but at the top, he said, was being greeted by the current President Bush.
“He took the time to ask me how I was doing,” Price said. “He’s a human being, just like me.
He puts his pants on one leg at the time. He actually came out to us and shook our hands and said, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job.’”
He said the service members enjoy getting cards and letters from people back home and complimented programs like amillionthanks.org that sends cards to the military from average citizens.
“I love the little kids,” he said, laughing as he recalled one card where the child misspelled, “GI.”
“The normal Iraqi people I’ve encountered are nice, normal, pleasant people,” he said.
“It gives me a good feeling.”
Currently, he’s stationed at Patrick Air Force Base at Cocoa Beach, Fla.
He’s been there about six years and this is his favorite assignment so far.
“I always liked the Air Force, of course,” he said. “It was a great decision, a wise, wise choice. It’s the best service and I have the best job in the world.
“I’m an explosive ordnance disposal technician.
The civilian equivalent would be the bomb squad. Basically I’m the chief of the bomb squad at Patrick Air Force Base. We render safe or defuse explosive devices, as small as a pipe bomb to as large as a nuclear warhead.
“Of course, there’s what we call a pucker factor.
There has to be or there’s something wrong. When we’re doing our job, we’re very focused.
We leave the work at work. When we’re at work, we focus on our jobs and when we’re home we focus on our families. We have respect for the devices we render safe because one mistake and that could be your last.”
Price has a wife Kara and four boys. Tony, 17, just graduated high school and plans to attend Valdosta State University in the fall. Georgie is 14, Gregory, 13, and Jacob is 3.
“I thank God that I have a wonderful wife, a wonderful family and a wonderful support base,” Price said.
“Every shuttle launch, I have to be there.
In fact, we are the only people who can be as close as you can be.
We are NASA’s bomb squad. There are only 14 of us in the whole world who are authorized to render safe or handle space shuttle ordnance items.”
The entire team is Air Force personnel, according to Price.
“So we get up close and personal with the space shuttle,” he said.
“We also do Secret Service support. So basically everywhere the president or vice president or dignitaries go, we have to be there.”
Governor vetoes sheriff's raise
• Sen. J.B. Powell proposed local legislation, which went on to pass both the senate and house, to raise Jefferson and Burke sheriffs' salaries by $10,000
By Carol McLeod
Governor Sonny Perdue vetoed two bills that would have given raises to certain sheriffs in the state. Senate Bill 310 would have given the sheriff of Jefferson County a raise of $10,000. Senate Bill 311 would have given a similar raise to Burke County’s sheriff.
The vetoes were announced, along with 39 others, on Wednesday, May 30. These two bills were sponsored by Senator J.B. Powell who said the bills were in line with one last year that gave the sheriff of Richmond County a raise.
“I was phasing it in,” Powell said. “We done Richmond County; it was last year.” Powell said the plan was to propose a raise for the sheriffs in each of the counties within his district over a period of time. Each raise was to be the same, $10,000. The raise would have been a one-time annual increase but would have had to have been paid from the coffers of the respective counties.
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“That was, I felt, a fair amount to give them adequate compensation,” Powell said. “We were asked by Jefferson County to do some raises in the judicial areas and I didn’t feel it was fair to give raises in the judicial area and not in law enforcement. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”
“SB 310 is legislation applicable only to Jefferson County,” said the governor in a press release. “The County Commission was not consulted before this legislation was introduced, but the County Commission must provide for the unfunded mandate contained in SB 310 through taxpayer funded general revenue. I do not support unfunded mandates generally, especially when local governing authorities did not have the benefit of consultation prior to the Legislative Session. For these reasons, I Veto SB 310.”
Jefferson County Commission Chairman William Rabun said the veto was the decision of the governor. “We didn’t ask him to veto the bill or pass it,” Rabun said.
According to information provided by Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan, the bills that give raises to the solicitors and judges of the county are different because they establish a starting salary for each of those positions, while the bill giving the sheriff a raise does not. “It established a stair step based on longevity,” Bryan said.
Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins said he never asked for a raise in salary. “I felt pleased that someone considered me for a raise,” he said. “The governor has vetoed the bill so there is really nothing to discuss.”
“He (the governor) didn’t have a problem with the sheriff in Richmond County (getting a raise),” Powell said regarding the veto. “All of a sudden he’s got a problem. I just think he’s behaving heady handed. I think it’s a double standard.”