News: Purple Heart recipients prove tenacity under fire
Story by Sgt. Mark Miranda
CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE GARRYOWEN, Iraq — In August, Multi-National Corps-Iraq Commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby came to see 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment and present Purple Hearts to six Soldiers from C Company, "Comanche".
Comanche's story reads like a series of unfortunate events, but also reveals the capacity of the affected Soldiers to call their training into action, endure and overcome.
Sgt. 1st Class Jose M. Sanchez, an infantry platoon sergeant from El Paso, Texas, recalled the events of a June 9 trip outside the wire.
"My patrol was hit with an improvised explosive device. My trail vehicle was directly struck and was destroyed," said Sanchez.
The vehicle's tactical commander, Staff Sgt. Richard C. Hoskins, an armor crewman, received the brunt of the injuries. He was evacuated first to COS Garryowen, and then subsequently to the U.S.
Pfc. Brian A. Worley, an armor crewman from Rio Rancho, N.M., and Sgt. Juan P. Giraldo, an infantryman from Miami, Fla., were also injured in the vehicle. Worley received shrapnel to the knee and Giraldo received a traumatic brain injury. Yet, they were still able to come to the aid of Hoskins.
"Both were the first responders in getting Staff Sgt. Hoskins out of his vehicle and in giving him the first aid that saved his life," said Sanchez.
In spite of their injuries, Worley and Giraldo both stayed behind at the site of the attack after Hoskins was evacuated and helped with security and site exploitation.
The following day, June 10, Comanche's third platoon was attacked with rocket-propelled grenade fire while they were in the city of Amarah conducting their key leader engagements with the 5th Battalion Emergency Response Unit.
"While they were conducting their evacuation of their wounded they were attacked a second time on their way back to COS Garryowen with an IED," said Sanchez.
Sgt. Aaron Marques, an armor crewman from Marysville, Calif., received the first of his two Purple Hearts for shrapnel wounds to his face after an RPG-22 hit his humvee.
"We were hit by a Russian LAW [RPG-22]. I tried to reposition the truck but it was full of smoke and communications were out," said Marques. "I opened my door to let out the smoke. I saw my dismount get out of the truck so I escorted him to the platoon sergeant's vehicle, which had the medic on it and he immediately received medical care."
Spc. James R. Simpson, an armor crewman from El Paso, Texas, received shrapnel wounds to his legs and stayed in the fight, refusing medical treatment, in order to continue suppressing the enemy.
Pfc. Benjamin C. Thomas, an armor crewman from Tullahoma, Tenn., received a concussion but stayed in the humvee to maneuver it back to COS Garryowen.
Pfc. Robert D. Stewart, an armor crewman from Chillicothe, Ohio, who received the majority of the blast from the RPG-22 was medically evacuated back to the U.S.
"I was bleeding from the face and was approached by my platoon sergeant and numerous other Soldiers asking if I needed a medic. I told them to work on Stewart because he was worse than me," said Marques. "After the CASEVAC, we returned to the FST and I was treated for shrapnel to the face and thighs."
C Company was put to the test again later that month.
Third Platoon was at Joint Security Station Gasper June 30, when they were attacked with an improvised rocket assisted mortar. Two members of Sgt. 1st Class Sean O'Connor's platoon were injured in that attack.
"Sgt. Aaron Marques received his second Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds to his face, his chest, and head." said O'Connor, an armor crewman from Scranton, Pa.
Also receiving Purple Hearts for the June 30 attack were Pfc. Robert B. Walsh from Venice, Fla., who was knocked unconscious from the blast, and Pfc. Timothy E. Anderson from Forsyth, who received shrapnel wounds to the face, chest, and hands.
"I had been on guard for about 2 hours when I heard explosions. I called up to the SOG and told him that I think we had Incoming fire," said Walsh. "I then remember hearing a metal clinking sound and then I was knocked out for about a few seconds."
"I remember waking up four feet from where I was previously standing. The tower I was in was full of smoke and dust," Walsh said. "I got to my feet and saw vehicles inside the camp on fire and a lot of damage to the compound where the other Soldiers were sleeping."
Anderson, awakened by the explosions peered through an open space in his wall and saw the blast. The windows in his room shattered and glass cut him on his chest and face. He immediately jumped from his bunk, quickly put on his boots and made his way out of the building.
Unbroken spirits are characteristic of Comanche Company. One week into October, three months after being wounded, Simpson represented all the Soldiers of the Highlander Brigade in the Multi-National Division South Soldier of the Quarter Competition. The month before, O'Connor was a candidate for the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club induction.
Marques, twice wounded, continues to be heavily involved in assisting Military Transition Teams in the Maysan Province.
Walsh said his training helped him to get through what happened.
"Our training in 3rd Platoon 'Blacksheep' is the best in the company if not the battalion," he said. "We introduce stress and resilience to keep fighting no matter what the enemy throws at you."
"Our leadership makes sure we stay prepared and train like we fight," he said "Our platoon motto is 'Do Not Go Gentle,' and everyone takes it to heart."