Arrowhead Soldiers who earned Purple Hearts recently got an unexpected honor; their brigade commander, home on mid-deployment leave, arrived to personally present the medals and thank his Soldiers. Each earned his in a different way.
When infantryman Sgt. Royal Teas Humvee went flipping through the air after running over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, the Army training hed worked to perfect for years almost immediately flooded his mind.
It left no time to think. No time to panic, no room for giving into fear as he checked to make sure he still had legs only time to react.
I made sure my legs were still there, made sure everyone was all right, checked on my guys in the back, said the Yakima, Wash., native. It happened so quick that all youre thinking about is your buddies.
But Teas was lucky. He stood among five fellow Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Aug. 13 as his brigade commander affixed Purple Heart medals to the Soldiers chests a testament that they had met the enemy and survived.
I dont have this award, but you do, so youre better than me, Col. Chuck Webster told the six awardees as they stood before a bronze statue of a Soldier to memorialize those the brigade has lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Webster presented the medals at Arrowhead Brigade headquarters on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, for surviving traumatic situations. But while fortunate, Teas, on a second combat tour when the attack happened in early March, didnt come out completely unscathed.
He suffered a concussion that resulted in a traumatic brain injury, and an MRI revealed torn shoulder ligaments. He says his ears never stop ringing.
The 23-year-old former all-state football player at East Valley High School in Yakima had been in country five months with his company from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, when his convoy hit the IED. The company was returning from a meeting between Army leaders in the area and local sheiks.
I just remember holding onto my steering wheel, and all of a sudden we were flipped upside down, Teas said. We couldnt get our doors open because they were pretty smashed in.
He calls it a crazy experience that happened just like that something hes thankful to have survived. And the sentiment is the same for fellow awardee Spc. Jordan Houghton.
Its an honor to get the award, but I cant say its an award I would have ever really wanted, said Houghton, who was blown back 15 feet by a concussive wave from the detonation of 400 pounds of C-4 explosive while on a mission in the Zhari District, in the Kandahar Province in March. Im happy to be alive; I got lucky.
Houghton, a combat medic with 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, and his platoon had been laying C-4 along a wall outside a village to gain access to the known hiding spot of a large weapons collection. He and his team had been receiving small arms and mortar fire when an 82 mm mortar hit a detonation cord connected to the section of C-4.
The blast knocked the gear off Houghtons platoon leader and burned him severely.
Houghton, a native of Lynnwood, Wash., who was unconscious for a few minutes following the explosion, ran to the aid of his team members.
Theyre all my brothers, said Houghton, whose brigade sent him home early as a result of his injuries: perforated eardrums, hearing loss and short-term memory loss. Thats the simplest way to put it. Id gladly give my life for any one of them.
It sucks not being there with them (in Afghanistan).
Webster said Soldiers like Houghton and Teas represent the best the Army has to offer.
Not only do you have the greatness that is the U.S. Army Soldier and all that entails; now youre recognizing the greatest of the greatest, Webster said. They survived, they completed their missions, and now theyre healing from their wounds.
Its a great honor to stand up in front of those guys.
Webster, who has served in the Army for 29 years, called it the best thing he has the opportunity to do as an officer.
Its what its all about being able to recognize Soldiers for what they do, what they have done and what theyre going to do.