Engineers receive Purple Heart medals for injuries
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley, pins a Purple Heart medal on Spc. Jason Medlock, 41st Clearance Co., 1st Eng. Bn., Aug. 23 at Fort Riley. Photo by: Amanda Kim Stairrett, 1ST INF. DIV.
Story by: Amanda Kim Stairrett
1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS
As the crowd of uniformed Soldiers dissipated Aug. 23, Pfc. Jeremy Flete paused before speaking.
"I don't want it," he finally said. "I'd rather not get it."
The 24-year-old Maryland native received his Purple Heart medal minutes before and thought about what it meant. He talked about that March day earlier this year when he was deployed to the Wardak Province, Afghanistan, with the 41st Engineer Company (Clearance), 1st Engineer Battalion.
It was early in the morning and the Soldiers were on their way back to the forward operating base from a short mission. The mine resistant ambush protected vehicle drove around a berm and before Flete, the vehicle's gunner, could get a word out "the explosion happened." A roadside bomb detonated on the driver's side of the truck. It tipped, but didn't fall. Flete was knocked unconscious by his .50-caliber weapon.
"That's pretty much all I remember," he said.
Flete came to less than a minute later with the medic standing over him.
Spc. Jason Medlock remembered what it was like inside of an MRAP rocked by a bomb. "Like you're in a Coke can," the Texas native said.
"Like you're inside of a Coke can, and it's just ... crunching."
Medlock also received a Purple Heart Aug. 23 for wounds received while serving with the 41st Eng. Co., 1st Eng. Bn. during the same deployment to Afghanistan.
The 1st Eng. Bn. deployed to Regional Command-East in Afghanistan for nine months, returning earlier this year and uncasing its colors at Fort Riley just three months ago.
The battalion falls under the 555th Engineer Brigade out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., but is administratively and has historically been assigned to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div.
Medlock was with a group of Soldiers returning to the FOB one night when his vehicle was hit. The roadside bomb detonated under the truck commander's side. The vehicle lifted four feet off the ground, said Medlock, who was driving.
"I steered into the roll, and that's all I remember," he added.
The next thing Medlock remembered, he said, was the truck commander shaking him awake. He was out for about 10 to 15 seconds, he was told. The truck was disabled, but not out, and Medlock drove it out of a hole 15 feet in diameter to a safer spot 100 meters down the road. He, like Flete, was medically evacuated from the scene.
Both Soldiers continue to receive treatment for traumatic brain injuries. Medlock has yet to fully recover from back injuries sustained in the blast.
Medlock agreed with Flete, saying he "could have actually done without getting one of these," referring to his Purple Heart.
"I didn't want to get blown up," he said matter-of-factly.
This was the first deployment for Flete and the second for Medlock, a 33-year-old father of three little girls.
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley, pinned Flete and Medlock with their Purple Hearts Aug. 23.
"Not only are these two great awardees," he said looking at Flete and Medlock, "but I want to tell you from a nation that doesn't understand what the 'Sappers' do for a living, 'thanks.'"
The nation owes them a debt of gratitude they're never going to repay, Funk said.
"You are the ones that proceed down those routes to clear them for others," he said to the engineers.
Funk also stressed the importance of the Soldiers being responsible to each other and accountable to themselves.
"It's about holding dear those things and those relationships you have to your left and right," he said. "It's about understanding that we serve because of the person to our right and left. That's why we do this."