CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar — U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Evan Roberts, from Somerset, Pa., received the Bronze Star Medal for his meritorious service in support of Operation Enduring Freedom during an award service at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, Feb. 22.
Roberts earned the fourth-highest combat award as the 580th Signal Company, Direct Signal Support Team telecommunications system chief in Afghanistan. Capt. Judy Hobson, 25th Signal Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment commander presented the medal.
"It is a great honor to receive this medal," said Roberts during the ceremony. "I would like to thank my soldiers. I wouldn't have successfully completed the mission without their help."
While deployed to Afghanistan, Roberts increased communication efficiency between U.S. and coalition forces on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He also worked in coordination with information assurance personnel, network and system administrators and the Regional Computer Emergency Response Team to mitigate malicious network attacks.
His primary mission involved directing the installation, operation, maintenance and sustainment of tactical and strategic communication systems in support of war fighting elements. He provided contractual oversight of over $1 million in telecommunications equipment.
"The amount of knowledge he has is incredible," said Spc. Robert Stofflet, from Columbia, S.C., who was deployed with Roberts in Afghanistan. "As a young soldier, I look up to him. Any time I had a question, he had an answer."
Roberts has built radios for over 40 years, an interest inspired by his father, an Air Force avionics technician. He routinely watched his father build communications equipment as well as repair electrical appliances around the home.
"I built my first crystal radio when I was six years old," said Roberts. His father often brought home electronic building kits and spare parts.
Roberts enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 1985, as a single-channel radio operator. In July 1988, he entered the Army's Green to Gold program and was later commissioned a second lieutenant. As an officer, his duties leaned more toward leading soldiers than operating radios. In July 1995, he resigned his commission to return to active enlisted duty with the 82nd Signal Battalion.
"I resigned because it was the only way I could work on radios again," said Roberts. "At the end of the day, it's not about a pay check. It's about doing what you love...and I love radios."
Roberts is a Military Affiliate Radio System operator certified by the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command. MARS is a program established by the Department of Defense to provide high-frequency emergency communications. He also holds a Federal Communications Commission amateur radio technician license.
"Radios are important for the military," said Roberts. "They are the biggest component in command and control communications."
Prior to deploying for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, he built a portable MARS hub to provided personal telecommunications access for servicemembers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany.
"I build at least one radio wherever I'm stationed," said Roberts. "Building radios help keep me focused and positive. They're constructive energy."
Roberts builds crystal radios with common household and office items, such as toilet tissue rolls, safety pins, pencil leads and spiral notebook bindings. They are powered by radio waves using a long-wire antenna. Roberts frequently finds diodes in alarm clocks and telephones to filter audio sounds from radio waves. As an alternative, he has fabricated diodes from LEDs.
"I can build a radio out of common junk," said Roberts. "Most people would consider the parts I use trash."
After receiving the award, Roberts continuously highlighted his wife's support throughout his deployment — his "source of strength."
He also thanked the Soldiers' Angels Foundation, a non-profit organization with over 225,000 volunteer sponsors providing care-packages and letters to deployed servicemembers. During holidays, a Minnesota family sent Roberts themed care packages.
"It is my distinct pleasure to present the Bronze Star to an individual who exemplifies the Army values," said Hobson. "He is the epitome of an NCO — the backbone of the Army. I have never met a leader more deserving."