Thursday, May 6, 2010

Four receive Purple Heart at Walter Reed

A Purple Heart ceremony held at Walter Reed Army Medical Center April 30 recognized four Soldiers with the nation’s oldest military award honoring military members wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States.

Lt. Gen. Carroll F. Pollett presented 1st Lt. Mark Wise, Sgt. Drew McComber, Sgt. Joseph Mershon and Spc. Craig Smith with the Purple Heart medal in Heaton Pavilion’s Joel Auditorium.

‘‘To be able to stand up here next to these heroes is an honor for me in terms of what you stand for because standing behind you [are] thousands and thousands of Soldiers that you represent,” said Pollett, director of Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Task Force – Global Network Operations in Arlington, Va.

‘‘That’s important as you stand up for our nation, belief and patriotism.”

Wise, an infantry officer assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo., stood tall at the Purple Heart ceremony to thank his wife Sara, their family and Pfc. Devin J. Michel, the radio telephone operator who died Oct. 24, 2009, when enemy forces attacked their platoon with an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Wise, 25, cited Michel as the driving force of his recovery.

The lieutenant sustained multiple catastrophic injuries in the attack, endured nearly 20 surgeries and estimated he will face less than half a dozen more after the April 30 ceremony. Six days earlier, he celebrated the six-month anniversary of his injury with a 110-mile bike ride for wounded military veterans.

Princeton, Ill., native McComber is an infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, Fort Lewis, Wash. An improvised explosive device injured the 23-year-old Aug. 31, 2009, while he was on dismounted patrol near Shuyene Province, Aghanistan.

‘‘There’s a lot of things in this world that can go wrong but you just have to find the best of any situation and smile your way through it,” McComber said. ‘‘Good times, bad times, always look for a better day.”

The optimistic sergeant wasn’t the only hopeful Soldier who received a Purple Heart at the Walter Reed ceremony last week. Smith said although the medal is an honor no one wishes to receive, he felt fortunate to have it and explained that his tenure at Walter Reed was probably the best experience he’s gone through.

Smith, a 22-year-old native of Montgomery, Ala., sustained injuries April 5, 2009, while conducting route clearance patrol near Mosul, Iraq. The M-9 armored combat earthmover driver assigned to the 9th Engineer Battalion, Schweinfurt Germany, lost his right leg in an IED blast.

As a below-knee-amputee, he began running races to encourage other Soldiers who ask him what they can do after losing a leg. Smith said he answers, ‘‘Do a marathon.”

With both the New York City and Boston Marathons under his belt, Smith left Wednesday for Colorado Springs, Colo., to compete in the inaugural Warrior Games.

Mershon, 25, was injured Feb. 19, 2009, while the gunner assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, Fort Lewis, Wash., served on mounted patrol in Dyala Province, Iraq. His vehicle was hit by an IED resulting in injury to his right foot, knee and shrapnel in his left eye.

His 5-year-old son, Dominic, and wife Hillary, holding 2-month old daughter Aubree, stood beside the sergeant as Pollett pinned the Purple Heart medal to his uniform. ‘‘I don’t know what I’d do without family,” Mershon said.