Seven years after her death, Deborah Klecker was posthumously awarded the civilian Defense of Freedom Medal, presented by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to her brother at a ceremony Friday morning at the Bend Heroes Memorial.
It's a long-awaited recognition for a family that has worked with police associations and Wyden to change the rules regarding who is eligible for the award. In fact, Klecker is the first civilian police officer to be so honored.
Klecker spent her entire career serving in law enforcement across Oregon. Upon retirement, she moved to Sunriver, but as Senator Wyden put, "She wanted to do more. She wanted to contribute more."
Klecker went to Iraq as a civilian police officer, to train Iraqi police. She was killed by an improvised explosive device in June of 2005.
The rules for who was eligible left civilian police officers like Klecker out of consideration. That all changed, leading to Friday's ceremony.
"To honor the service, of our colleague, or our friend, our fellow police officer, Deborah Dawn Klecker," read Walter Redmond of the U.S. State Department.
Working with Wyden, Klecker's family successfully got the eligibility requirements revised.
Redmond said, "I was in Iraq when Debbie was killed. I met her and greeted her group when she first deployed to Iraq."
Another speaker said, "I saw her with the kids, of those who had the misfortune of having been born and raised in that country. And she took them under her wing, and she treated them like her own children."
The medal and citation were presented by Wyden to her brother, Gregory Klecker.
"Long overdue," the senator said as he gave Klecker the medal. "Thank you," he replied, reaching out to shake the senator's hand.
With tears in his eyes and quivering voice, Klecker thanked the crowd, filled with local police officers.
"It's with great honor my family and I accept this medal, on behalf of not only my sister, but for all those families that, like us, have suffered the immeasurable loss of a loved one," Klecker said.
And he expressed gratitude that at long last, the rules for the award had changed.
Mark Lewis from the Civilian Police Alumni Association said 30 police officers have died in similar civilian work since 1990. Of those, 15 others now will likely receive the Defense of Freedom Medal.