SEMBACH, Germany – It was Nov. 2004 when Sgt. Lance Royce led his team during a convoy travelling in Fallujah, Iraq. His unit began to receive small arms fire, the soldiers returned fire and continued the mission. As the convoy continued down the road, an improvised explosive device detonated shattering both windows and injuring the soldiers inside.
Royce, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the vehicle, felt disoriented and was diagnosed with a moderate to severe concussion. He endured painful headaches, loss of balance and double vision.
“At the time I was more concerned about the rest of my team and others on the convoy and making sure that we were not further ambushed by the insurgents who had just fired on us a few minutes earlier,” said Royce.
Eight years later, that sergeant is Capt. Lance Royce, 709th Military Police Battalion chief of operations, 18th MP Brigade, headquartered on Sembach Kaserne.
Royce, a native of St. Albans, Vt., was presented the Purple Heart by Maj. Gen. Aundre Piggee, 21st Theater Sustainment Command commanding general, Oct. 3 in Grafenwoehr, Germany, for a brain injury suffered during that IED attack in 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq.
In April 2011, the Secretary of the Army approved a policy allowing soldiers to be awarded the Purple Heart for concussions and mild traumatic brain injuries not resulting in loss of consciousness, dating back to Sept. 2001.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a Traumatic Brain Injury is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain.
After years of headaches, mood swings and temper issues, Royce was officially diagnosed in 2007 after medical tests showed scarring on the brain.
“I think there is still a stigma surrounding traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. Soldiers are afraid to come forward and admit there is a problem,” said Royce. “I wanted to show soldiers that you can overcome a head injury and be successful in the Army.”
Despite his injury he continued to pursue his goal of being a commissioned officer.
“My final determination to become an officer was that I wanted to lead troops at a broader level and feel like I had more of an impact on soldiers lives than I did as an NCO,” said Royce. “I do miss being an NCO at times and having a direct leadership with Soldiers, being able to affect the individual soldier, teaching and mentoring them.”
When the policy on the Purple Heart was re-written in 2011, the Army decided to allow soldiers to resubmit paperwork to be reevaluated on whether they should have received a Purple Heart for a previously diagnosed TBI.
“Finally receiving my Purple Heart has allowed me to put some final closure to the injury and know that it is recognized as a legitimate injury,” said Royce.