News: Purple Hearts for Public Affairs
Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – They were assigned to tell the story of a battalion-sized operation in the Maiwand District of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, but two 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armor Division, Public Affairs soldiers became the story March 28, 2013, when an improvised explosive device struck their vehicle.
It was a temperate southern Afghanistan spring day. Although the mid-afternoon sun blazed down, Capt. Jennifer Dyrcz, the brigade public affairs officer, and Staff Sgt. Jason Ragucci, a public affairs broadcaster, were comfortable with the heat as they sat side-by-side in the dark within the passenger compartment of the lead Stryker. They were riding with the brigade commander and providing coverage of the operation for release to military news outlets and the civilian media.
The convoy was returning from a mission to check on the progress of the Combined Task Force Ready First and Afghan National Army operation when the quiet of the afternoon was shattered.
“All of a sudden, there was a big canned boom,” Dyrcz said. “The Stryker was lifted, we lifted with it, and the inside of the vehicle was filled with dust.”
“My feet took the brunt of it,” Ragucci said. “I tried to hold them up when we came back down to keep them from slamming into the bottom of the Stryker.”
There was a lot of shouting as leaders tried to assess the situation and check on their soldiers, Dyrcz said.
Dyrcz, a native of Rock Creek, Ohio, received a cut above her left eye that required 43 stitches to close and Ragucci, a native of Huntsville, Ala., suffered two broken ankles in the attack. Two other soldiers were also injured.
Ragucci said his first reaction to the strike and the pain was anger. This was the ninth time he had been struck by an IED while in a vehicle among five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be the second Purple Heart Medal for the 11-year Army veteran.
“This second (time I was injured) was not as bad as the first, but it triggered memories of all the others and I was just so angry,” he said. “I was in so much pain.”
The tactical situation was still in question and as the vehicle’s rear ramp went down; the soldiers descended and assumed a combat position.
“When I got out, I was literally standing on my ankles,” Ragucci said.
Staff Sgt. Lisa Latham, a medic from San Antonio, Texas, was in the second vehicle. She rushed to provide aid to the injured.
“The first one I saw was Capt. Dyrcz walking around with blood all over her head, dripping down her face,” she said.
Latham ushered the wounded into the second Stryker and began assessing their wounds and applying aid as the convoy moved to the battalion’s forward aid station.
“You could actually see my foot swelling as the boot was pulled off,” Ragucci said. “We didn’t remove the other one.”
The soldiers were treated and transported by helicopter to the Role III hospital at Kandahar Airfield. Dyrcz was treated and returned to duty approximately four days later. Ragucci’s recovery took a bit longer. One of his ankles did not set well and had to be broken again a week later and reset. He returned to duty approximately a month after the incident.
Dyrcz, Ragucci and one of the other soldiers wounded in the attack were awarded Purple Heart Medals Aug. 6, 2013, at Kandahar Airfield by Col. Ken Adgie, 1st SBCT, 1st Armor Div., commander, during an end of tour ceremony. The fourth soldier wounded received his Purple Heart medal before he was sent home for rehabilitation with a broken tailbone following the attack.
It is ironic, Ragucci said, that he was involved in another IED attack as a public affairs broadcaster.
Ragucci completed two tours to Iraq and two tours to Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, based at Ft. Bragg. In 2005, while assigned to Combat Outpost Speicher, Iraq, he was driving a gun truck when an IED had a direct hit on the side of the truck. Ragucci took shrapnel in the chin and right shoulder; the gunner was killed and a third soldier lost an arm.
The husband and father of five children transferred into public affairs in 2011 after being involved in other IED strikes in later deployments.
“I (reclassified in public affairs) because I got tired of being blown up and being the story. I wanted to tell the soldier story,” he said. “This is the best job in the Army because you get to see everything the Army has and do everything.”
Despite the latest attack, Ragucci said he plans to continue his military career and eventually retire from the Army. He will transfer from Ft. Bliss to Ft. Bragg on his return to the United States and continue to work in public affairs.
Dyrcz said she will remain with the 1st Armor Division, but has gained a new insight on the soldiers she writes about.
“While no one wants to go through this experience, as a public affairs officer it gives a greater depth of perspective and empathy for telling the Soldier story,” she said. “And as a female, it is important to show we are out here at the lowest levels and very proud to serve our country.”