Mortar attack in northeast Iraq kills 49-year-old Waldorf man

Civilian Air Force worker was due home next month

August 13, 2004|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A 49-year-old Waldorf man working for the Air Force as a civilian employee died in Iraq on Sunday from injuries suffered in a mortar attack earlier that day, the Defense Department announced yesterday.

Rick A. Ulbright died at Kirkuk Air Base in northeast Iraq. He was married to Karen Ulbright, had a 24-year-old daughter and was scheduled to return home next month.

His wife, reached last night by telephone, said she did not wish to comment.

One of Ulbright's neighbors said the quiet man was a polygraph expert who had been an agent in the Office of Special Investigations, the Air Force's major investigative service.

Though retired from the Air Force, Ulbright was in Iraq as a civilian employee assigned to the 33rd Field Investigative Squadron from Andrews Air Force Base.

Timothy Burkhart, who lives next door to the Ulbrights on a quiet cul-de-sac of ranch and split-level homes, said he did not know the Ulbrights particularly well and learned of his neighbor's death from a reporter last night.

Over the weekend, before word of Ulbright's death reached his family, Burkhart chatted briefly with Karen Ulbright and asked when her husband was due home. She told him it would be next month. He had been gone two months, Burkhart said.

"They were really good neighbors," he said. "I'm actually pretty stunned. It's not like you turn on the TV and there it is, or I've read it in the newspaper."

Their subdivision, Sentry Woods, is home to a number of current or former members of the military. Burkhart just retired as a Navy chief warrant officer. Although Ulbright was no longer in active service, Burkhart said, "he still gave his life for a call of duty."

Lloyd Morrison, another neighbor who was in Air Force Special Investigations before retiring in 1987, said the Ulbrights were private people. Still, when he saw Karen Ulbright not long ago, he tried to reassure her about the danger her husband faced in Iraq.

"I told her, as long as he stays on the compound, he'll be OK. It's the convoys you have to watch out for."

The Air Force released little information about the mortar attack in which Ulbright was fatally injured. Spokesman Doug Karas said he did not know where the attack occurred, only that he died at the base.

Morrison said Ulbright specialized in polygraph, or "lie detector," tests. But he did not know specifically what he was doing in Iraq.

"If he was working with OSI, they support a lot of government agencies," said Morrison.

According to the Air Force, the 70-member 33rd Field Investigative Squadron - also known as the Washington Field Office - normally handles investigations and "issues of high concern" in the Washington area.

It also helps other Office of Special Investigations units and has expertise in counterintelligence and terrorism.

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