News: Engineers receive Purple Hearts
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – There is perhaps no military award as well known as the Purple Heart. Dating back to George Washington, whose face graces the medal, it’s a storied badge with a history that grows daily.
Five soldiers from 555th Engineer Brigade received the Purple Heart during a ceremony on Able Field, Oct. 22, for wounds sustained during the unit’s recent deployment to Afghanistan.
“This is a great award,” said Col. Nicholas Katers, the commander of 555th. “People will see it all the time for the rest of your life. Make sure that you wear it proudly.”
The Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to service members. Originally known as the Badge of Military Merit, it fell out of use after the Revolutionary War but was reinstated in 1932. A service member must be wounded or killed by enemy forces to be eligible for the award.
One recipient, Pfc. Gene Bills, a horizontal construction engineer with 610th Engineer Support Company, said he never wanted the award but is proud to be part of the small group of service members who have one.
Bills sustained a traumatic brain injury during a patrol in Helmand province when a 200-pound improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in late-December 2011.
“We had found a suspected IED and were clearing around to control the area,” said Bills. “I don’t remember a lot after that.”
Bills said he woke up on the ground with parts of his vehicle lying around him.
“It took me a second to realize I had gotten hit,” he said.
Bills’ unit informed his wife, Danielle, soon after the incident.
“I got to call her on Christmas Day and tell her that I was OK,” said Bills, a Houston native. “She was really excited to hear from me, and I was relieved that she already knew what had happened.”
Danielle and their son, Gene, stood next to Bills while he received his Purple Heart.
“It’s definitely very honorable,” she said of his award. “I realize how grateful I am that he was able to be here, and at the same time I am very proud of him.”
Engineers like Bills routinely patrol roads in search of improvised explosive devices. They receive highly specialized training to safely clear routes for their fellow soldiers.
“The mission you guys have is an incredible one,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, I Corps deputy commanding general. “It speaks volumes to your training and expertise that your still here. You are living proof of your professionalism.”
The long tradition of the Purple Heart continues on. As soldiers like those of 555th face the enemies of the U.S., their unique stories become part of its history.
Date Posted:10.30.2012 15:57
Location:JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA, US
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