KBR contractor accidently killed by Australian troops

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  1. A Vietnam vet who earned a Silver Star dies as a KBR contractor in Iraq.

    S.A. contractor dies in Iraq in a 'friendly fire' incident
    Sig Christenson
    Express-News Military Writer

    A San Antonio man working for a private contractor in Iraq was shot and killed just outside the Australian Embassy in Baghdad last weekend in a "friendly fire" incident.

    Hector C. Patiño, a Vietnam veteran who earned the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest decoration for valor, was driving through a series of checkpoints Saturday when guards armed with machine guns opened fire.

    Dozens of rounds hit his vehicle, which the Australian Defense Department said didn't stop until the third volley.

    "Despite clear signage, physical control measures and clear requests by Australian personnel to stop, the driver continued to drive the vehicle towards the control point showing no intention of stopping," Col. Pup Elliott, an Australian military spokesman, said in a statement.

    Company spokeswoman Melissa Norcross confirmed Thursday that an employee with Houston-based KBR Inc. was killed at a coalition "control point" in Baghdad. The worker, who was not identified, is the 96th KBR employee or subcontractor to die in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, she said.

    Australian officials provided details about the three machine guns used in the incident and the number of rounds fired, but didn't mention that anyone had been killed until near the end of the release. It neither identified Patiño as the dead man nor said that a U.S. citizen had died.

    An embassy spokesman did not respond to a San Antonio Express-News request to confirm its guards killed an American, but family members said Patiño, 58, was shot at the embassy's second checkpoint at 8 a.m. Baghdad time Saturday.

    A pair of KBR representatives, one a grief counselor, notified the family of his death that day.

    Patiño's family said he took the risky job so he could retire in another year to his dream house, where he often fed deer by hand, shaking a bowl full of corn to get their attention.

    Rosemary Patiño said her brother supported America's efforts in Iraq and "was trying hard to serve his country in the capacity he was in."

    A love of nature and water — which he shared with his dad — led to the love of his life, a four-story Canyon Lake home that's still a work in progress after 17 years of labor in his spare time.

    The project began with a drive into the Hill Country, the sort the family often took when they wanted to get out of the city. One day they stumbled across a picturesque slice of land overlooking Canyon Lake.

    "Before (his father) passed away we would go driving out in the country, and one day we found this lot on the water, and my father just loved it and my brother bought it," said Rosemary Patiño, a retired school counselor. "He said, 'One day you guys are going to live with me,' and he (built) a room for my mother and father."

    Patiño was a Vietnam veteran with two tours under his belt during the war's bloodiest years, 1968-70. He joined the Army after graduating in 1966 from South San High School, where he was a track star who ran so fast people there called him "El Caballo" — the horse.

    Patiño found a center of gravity in his hands. He was a welder most of his life and spent much of his time away from work building the family's dream house on Canyon Lake.

    Family photos depict Patiño raising one of the beams with the help of his daughter Priscilla, now 21 and a junior at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where she majors in stage acting. In the snapshot she's a toddler, a hardhat atop her head.

    "He was always happy, always doing everything to make sure that everybody felt good about themselves, like having a conversation with the waitress that was serving food," she said.

    The house is mostly completed, with the exception of one floor. Patiño went the extra mile, carving out an attic room for kids and installing an elevator for his 82-year-old mom, Flora, who broke an ankle years ago.

    She was never far from his mind. Patiño, an altar boy at St. Joseph Catholic Church and one-time Boy Scout, called her from Iraq every few days. He came home for the Christmas holidays with a special present — caps for the family with their names written in English and Arabic. He told them, "I didn't know what to bring you, but I wanted it to be special so you would remember me.'