CAMP GRAFTON TRAINING CENTER, DEVILS LAKE, N.D. - After nearly nine years, a North Dakota Army National Guard soldier received a Purple Heart medal for wounds he sustained in Iraq in 2003. The honor was presented at a ceremony at the 164th Regional Training Institute at the Camp Grafton Training Center, Devils Lake, N.D., March 17.
Staff Sgt. Heith Dokken was honored in front of a crowd of friends and family during the event. The Forest River, N.D., native, resides in Devils Lake and works full-time at the Regional Training Institute as the medical operations non-commissioned officer.
"Staff Sgt. Dokken represents the best of our North Dakota National Guard and the spirit of those who serve our great state and nation," said Gov. Jack Dalrymple. "He volunteered to serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and while in Iraq, risked his own life in order to save others. He is a testament to the courage and dedication that defines our military men and women and we will always be grateful for his service and sacrifice."
Dokken served as a medic during Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Bismarck, N.D., - based 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge) from 2003-2004. He was wounded July 1, 2003, near Ar Ramadi, while providing security by boat patrol on the Euphrates River. The day that Dokken took shrapnel from a mortar attack, another 957th soldier also was wounded. Despite the numerous mortars hitting along the shoreline by his patrol, Dokken, as one of the company's medics, treated the soldier's wounds. The day marked the first occasion in which North Dakota National Guard soldiers were attacked during operations in the Global War on Terrorism.
Three soldiers from the unit were killed in action during the deployment: Staff Sgt. Kenneth Hendrickson, Sgt. Keith Smette and Spc. Jon Fettig.
"We will always remember those soldiers and their families who have made the ultimate sacrifice," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. "Today, we honor a soldier who represents the essence of selfless service - a core Army value. Staff Sgt. Dokken embodies the strength and perseverance of our soldiers and airmen. When called upon, they continually meet the challenges placed in front of them through serving their communities, state and nation."
During his military career, Dokken estimates he's been to 54 countries during his 21 years of military service with the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Navy Reserve and the North Dakota National Guard. This includes volunteering for deployments to Iraq in 2003 and again in 2006 to Afghanistan with the 1-188th Air Defense Artillery Security Forces.
"The things that I've been able to see and the education that I got from that travel is unbelievable," Dokken said. "I found it challenging and rewarding, and that's why I've kept volunteering for missions throughout my career."
In between deployments, Dokken was able to earn a master's degree from the University of North Dakota after studying computer mapping, satellite imagery and geospatial analysis. His thesis, on using satellite imagery for counterdrug operations, is a technique being used by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Dokken has received numerous awards during his military service including the Bronze Star with "V" device (representing valor in combat), two Army Commendation Medals, three Army Achievement Medals and the Combat Action Badge.
The Purple Heart has a lengthy history and is the world's oldest military medal in continuous use. The original medal was initiated as the Badge of Military Merit by Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War in 1782. The Purple Heart, as we know it today, began in 1932 and has undergone changes and award criteria since Washington's time. It is awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces who was wounded, killed or died from wounds from military action.