INDIAN HEAD, Md. — Richard L’Abbé was recognized with one of the Navy’s highest civilian honors: the Department of the Navy (DON) Distinguished Public Service Award for his contributions to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) community. L’Abbé received this recognition at the Fall EOD Technology and Training Program Board Meeting, at Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division (NSWC IHD), Oct. 15.

NSWC IHD Commanding Officer and Deputy Executive Manager for EOD Technology Capt. Eric Correll; Program Board co-chairs Rear Adm. Kevin Byrne and Army Brig. Gen. Heidi Hoyle recognized L’Abbé for his continued dedication and support to allied EOD warfighters and their mission. Byrne is also the DoD Executive Manager for EOD Technology and Training and Commander, Naval Surface and Undersea Warfare Centers. Hoyle also serves as Commanding General of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, L’Abbé was presented this award virtually from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Distinguished Public Service Award was established in 1951 and is presented by the Secretary of the Navy to civilians for either specific acts of courage or heroism or whose actions or service have provided long-term, substantial benefits to the DON and DoD. This award is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian not employed by the DON.

“It is with great honor and privilege that we can be here today to recognize Mr. L’Abbé,” said Byrne. “His dedication and support to develop effective protective equipment and educate EOD personnel has directly saved the lives of numerous personnel within the United States military and their counterparts serving in public safety agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.”

During his 35-year career, L’Abbé was a major contributor to the DoD in the field of EOD equipment. Under his leadership, Med-Eng — an organization he co-founded — became a major provider of EOD suit and helmet ensembles and specialized EOD equipment used throughout the DoD EOD community. 

L’Abbé believed bomb technicians faced multiple threats as a function of the violent forces caused by an explosive event. He pursued research programs to understand blast effects on the human body, in turn pioneering a unique branch of science known as “blast threats on the human body.” His research identified four main factors: blast overpressure, fragmentation, impact and heat/flame. He prioritized these factors based on their potential lethality and quantified a technician’s risk of injury based on their proximity to various blast charges. 

L’Abbé shared his blast-effects knowledge with DoD EOD leadership so they understood how best to mitigate threats and recognize the circumstances in which protective equipment would be effective, or exposed beyond its limits. L’Abbé subjected himself to 19 live blast tests, sharing his knowledge and meeting with as many EOD operators as he could, earning him a level of trust rarely granted by the EOD community to someone from private industry. 

L’Abbé also enabled advancements in the design and production of protective ensembles and electronic equipment to safeguard EOD personnel against the effects of improvised explosive devices, including designing an EOD helmet that would not fog up in cold climates. By the 2000s, every branch of the U.S. military trusted Med-Eng suits to protect the lives of their EOD teams. L’Abbé’s EOD suits are known to have directly saved numerous lives of U.S. service members during the course of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Today we are honored to recognize [L’Abbé] with the U.S. Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Servant Award. This may be a DON award however it is presented with gratitude on behalf of the joint EOD Technology and Training Program and all of our past and present EOD technicians.” said Correll. “His products have directly saved countless lives of EOD personnel serving in public safety agencies at the federal, state and local levels. His keen intellect and unfailing dedication to the advancement of protective equipment that support our DoD EOD community make him most deserving of the honor accorded by this award.”

NSWC IHD — a field activity of the Naval Sea Systems Command and part of the Navy’s Science and Engineering Establishment — is the leader in ordnance, energetics and EOD solutions. The Division focuses on energetics research, development, testing, evaluation, in-service support, manufacturing and disposal; and provides warfighters solutions to detect, locate, access, identify, render safe, recover, exploit and dispose of explosive ordnance threats.