Pfc. Jose Roldan, left, and Pfc. Joseph Jackson stand at attention after receiving Purple Hearts. Marine Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan awarded eight U.S. Army soldiers the Purple Heart medal during a Christmas Day ceremony on Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. The soldiers were from the 14th Engineering Battalion, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (DoD Photo by Chief Petty Officer Leslie Shively)
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (December 28, 2011) — While families celebrated Christmas Day exchanging gifts and sharing the holiday spirit back home, eight U.S. Army soldiers from the 14th Engineer Battalion stood in line as Marine Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan, commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and Regional Command Southwest, pinned Purple Heart medals on their chests.
The battalion, whose moniker is Rugged!, finds and neutralizes improvised explosive devices throughout Helmand province. The soldiers clear the roads using heavily-armored vehicles designed to protect the occupants from IED explosions.
Although the vehicles are effective at protecting soldiers, injuries can and do occur.
Pfc. Joseph Jackson, 571st Sapper Company, and a native of Erwin, N.C., was in the middle of clearing a road and recovering a downed vehicle when he and his team struck a roadside bomb.
“I got slapped in the face with a .50-cal that sheared off of the truck. It took me out.” Jackson said receiving a Purple Heart meant a lot to him and his family.
“My daddy’s got one,” he said.
“I’m the first in my family to be in the military, or have anything to do with the military,” said Pfc. José Roldan, 571st Sapper Company. “It’s definitely an honor for me.” The St. Augustine, Fla., native said he felt humbled to receive recognition.
“It’s kind of hard to accept something of this magnitude – especially for me. I’ve only been in for a year.”
Roldan was injured by two 80-pound bomb blasts, one right after another. “The second one rocked my world a little bit and gave me a rib injury.”
He said he’s thankful every day to be alive. “After those blasts you learn to be grateful for a lot of things. You learn to not complain.”
“It’s like the Army’s giving something back,” said Spc. Sean Hutchison, who hails from Bonney Lake, Wash., and is part of 571st Sapper Company Hutchison was convoying fuel trucks to a forward operating base when his vehicle set off an 80-pound roadside bomb.
“I got charred up a little bit.”
“The men are dedicated,” said Capt. Richard Peacock, commander of the 95th Route Clearance Company. “They try to take care of the routes, take care of each other and keep themselves safe at the same time.”
Peacock, a native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., said he was proud of his men, but that in the best case scenario his Soldiers would work themselves out of the job.
Toolan recognized the significance the holiday had to his soldiers, but assured them their presence in Afghanistan is vital to the mission.
“There are not many Americans that can wear the cloth that you have on right now. I’m very proud to recognize those who have the courage to get up every day, face the danger, and do it with pride,” Toolan said.
“The Purple Heart is an emblem of that courage.”