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    Delayed but not denied: Officer receives Purple Heart following a traumatic brain injury

    Delayed but not denied: Officer receives Purple Heart following a traumatic brain injury

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Ashley Morris | U.S. Army Maj. Robert Morse, chief of theatre operations for Regional Cyber...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Ashley Morris 

    AFN Wiesbaden

    WIESBADEN, Germany (Dec. 20, 2021) -- “We had that first call saying incoming, seven minutes. As that occurred, you could feel the rounds walking towards us. Everything was shaking. The doors of our building were blown open. Smoke, dust and the sulfur smell started fuming through.”

    After initially being denied, U.S. Army Maj. Robert Morse, chief of theater operations for the Regional Cyber Center-Europe, was presented a Purple Heart award for a traumatic brain injury and other injuries he sustained during the Jan. 8, 2020, Iranian missile attack against Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, in a small ceremony at the Lt. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes Building on Clay Kaserne, on Dec. 17, in Wiesbaden, Germany.

    Having family members who served and fought in the Korean and Gulf Wars, Morse understood the consequences of combat.

    A Michigan native, Morse enlisted in the Army with the Michigan National Guard in 2002 as a junior in high school. A little over a year later, he graduated Army advanced individual training as a light and heavy wheeled vehicle mechanic.

    Early on in his career, Morse said he always felt as if he should be doing more. That feeling eventually led to him commissioning as an active-duty signal officer.

    “I never really felt like I had a choice in what was going on around me,” said Morse. “I wanted to be in the room when decisions were being made.”

    Morse’s first theater experience would be as a first lieutenant at Combat Operations Base Adder, Iraq in 2009. Morse describes that deployment as relatively smooth.

    Prior to deploying to Iraq with 1st Stryker Combat Brigade Team, 25th Infantry Division from 2019 to 2020, Morse deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 as a company commander.

    When comparing the first two deployments to the latter, Morse said that although each deployment had their own merits, they all seemed the same.

    “This one started off fairly slow then everything started ramping up in December, into January,” said Morse. “You could tell that something was coming.”

    That feeling was put to the test when military intelligence received word that Iran would initiate a retaliatory attack following the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

    On Jan. 7, Morse was in the middle of a video teleconference when he was alerted that it was time to evacuate the area.

    “The company commander came in and told everyone we got to leave via any means possible,” recalled Morse. “I started looking at the team to see who was going to go and who was going to stay. We still had a mission to run for the rest of the theater.”

    As many team members as possible were loaded into two pick-up trucks and evacuated to a safe distance leaving behind Morse and a handful of other Soldiers and personnel.

    “A lot of leaders made good decisions that day,” said Morse. A vast majority of the personnel were evacuated.”

    Morse and others inside his building continued to work throughout the rest of the evening and into the early morning hours.

    A few hours later, the expected signal of incoming tactical ballistic missiles alerted the remaining personnel to prepare for impact.

    The building where Morse took cover was long and narrow with the back slightly dug into a hill. It was positioned off the flight line, close enough to feel the impact of the missiles.

    According to Morse, their building, which served as a shelter against fatal injuries during the attack, would later be responsible for other injuries endured by those inside.

    After the initial wave of missile rounds, Morse spread out the remaining personnel across the building to help with setting up defensive positions. Every door and window were barricaded and braced except for the door facing the flight line.

    “All night you could feel dirt, debris and rocks hitting the building,” said Morse as he took his time to explain what happened. “Unfortunately for me and some of the others in the building, it acted as an echo chamber. The percussion waves would come through the open door and funnel down the hallways.”

    The succession of the percussion waves prevented Morse and the other from fully realizing their injuries at the time, according to Morse.
    The incoming blasts knocked the doors and windows open all night. Celebratory gun fire from outside the base could be heard in between attack waves.

    The total attack lasted around an hour and a half.

    “The next morning after the attack nothing slowed down for us, all it did was ramp up,” Morse said. “For a good week afterwards, every night we were at heightened alert, not getting the rest and not getting the care that we needed.”

    Due to a changeover that Morse was involved with, Morse said the decision was made not to medically evacuate him out of the area immediately following the attacks.

    Morse redeployed to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, one month after the attack.

    “I got home mid-February right as COVID started locking down the rest of the world,” said Morse. “My care was deemed as routine. The earliest available appointment at the TBI clinic was April, which ended up turning into a virtual appointment.”

    A prescription for pain pills to dull the symptoms from his TBI would offer temporary relief for Morse.

    A traumatic brain injury was not the only wound sustained from that missile attack. Morse received inner ear damage which affects his balance and causes severe migraines. He sometimes experiences issues from feeling dizzy or lightheaded to having episodes of vertigo, after going from kneeling or lying down to standing.

    “It’s a challenge to be down and interacting with the kids to then also get up and continue play or do something else,” said Morse when describing interactions with his two children. “It’s probably the most frustrating and impactful thing that’s still residual.”

    Eventually, the migraines and vertigo began to take a toll on Morses’ physical readiness. Running more than half a mile became physically challenging due to debilitating headaches.

    Morse said tasks that used to be very easy led to him feeling as though he would never be able to recover due to the pain.

    “There is a large delay in me getting actual care; from me being diagnosed with a TBI to me getting actually receiving care,” said a visibly frustrated Morse. “That period of time, I thought I was done and would not be able to recover enough to continue serve.”

    A few months after the first appointment for his TBI, Morse completed a permanent change of station to serve in the U.S. Army Cyber Command in Wiesbaden.

    Once settled, Morse again sought treatment with his new primary care provider where he was referred the traumatic brain injury clinic at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, to begin his road to recovery.
    Once he began receiving proper care and after making necessary adjustments, Morse said he feels his symptoms not only improved his quality of life, but it allowed him to continue serving in a job he loves.

    “Since getting care, I’m going through physical therapy,” said Morse. “I’ve been able to actually progress from it, that I am able to do most things without getting a debilitating migraine. I used to not be able to do my job effectively. Getting care was the right choice.”

    However, for Morse, the story does not end here.

    In mid-2020, 80 packets for the Purple Heart award were initially submitted to the Awards and Decorations branch of the Army Human Resources Command. Only 29 of those packets were approved.
    Although he did not submit his packet until almost a year later, Morse also experienced that initial blow of rejection.

    “Building the packet was stressful and took a lot of effort,” said Morse. “That initial rejection was really frustrating.”

    Morse reached out to the awards branch to appeal the decision.

    Fortunately, his constant persistence to work through challenges proved to be rewarding.

    “They were willing to listen and take a step back and take a look at it again,” said Morse. “They reached out to me in early October to let me know, in reviewing the packet, that they were going to approve it and then re-look at a lot of the other packets that have been submitted for it as well.”

    He credits conversations between him, the awards branch, and his medical provider with allowing him to receive approval for the much-anticipated award.

    “The initial denial was tied to not being diagnosed immediately following the attack,” said Morse. “The AR doesn’t state that you have to have that care right away. There is some misunderstandings and miscommunications I believe.”

    On October 27, 2021, Morse was awarded the Purple Heart.
    “It’s one of those awards that I didn’t join the military hoping to get,” Morse said. “I knew it was always something could happen, but it wasn’t something that I joined and said I want to be wearing.”

    Although Morse is grateful to finally receive his award, he offers an important message for those battling injuries similar to his.

    “For TBIs and these invisible wounds, studies show that getting care as soon as possible is how you’re going to recover and actually be able to continue functioning the way you need to,” said Morse. “Your progress is going to be much faster. Get the care you need, when you need it. If anyone is going to tell you no, find somebody else.”



    Date Taken: 12.20.2021
    Date Posted: 12.22.2021 11:54
    Story ID: 411771
    Location: WIESBADEN, HE, DE 
    Hometown: ADRIAN, MI, US

    Web Views: 1,339
    Downloads: 1