The military will award the Purple Heart to dozens more soldiers injured when Iran hit its air base in Iraq with ballistic missiles in January 2020. The change comes after a CBS News investigation last month found that these same soldiers had not been recognized with the award and refused the accompanying medical benefits, even though it appeared to be eligible for it.
In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson said the Army Human Resources Command, which oversees the awards, approved 39 Purple Heart submissions for soldiers injured in the attack. The command informed these soldiers on Wednesday.
The attack was the largest ballistic missile strike against US forces in history and came days after the United States killed the powerful Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the elite Quds military force and the man behind the deadly attacks on US bases.
“It turned everything upside down,” said Platoon Sergeant Daine Kvasager, who received the award on Tuesday after being initially refused. Kvasager told CBS News in November he was hit by a shock wave after one of the missiles hit him about 150 feet away from him. “The whole earth shook.”
Although no American troops were killed, Kvasager and members of his team, called Taskforce Scarecrow, suffered traumatic brain injuries, or TBI. Yet after the attack, only 23 of the 59 team members diagnosed with head trauma received the Purple Heart.
Last month, members of the Scarecrow Taskforce told CBS News they felt pressure to downplay their growing injuries in order to avoid further escalation with Iran and to avoid undermining the early public comments of the former President Trump.
A week after the attack, Trump was asked about the soldiers’ injuries at a press conference, and he said he “had heard they had headaches” and “I can report that It’s not that serious”.
“The message I was getting was just that the political situation was not going to support more approvals,” said Captain Geoffrey Hansen, who helped lead Taskforce Scarecrow at the base known as Al Asad.
In an Oct. 6 letter obtained by CBS News, their commanding officer, Col. Gregory Fix, wrote that following the attack he was “ordered not to inquire about the remaining awards.” He urged the Army Human Resources Command to “review and / or reconsider” Purple Hearts for all wounded soldiers who did not receive one.
Among those who received the Purple Heart on Tuesday was Jason Quitugua, 22, who committed suicide last month. Quitugua, who was posthumously promoted to sergeant, defended the base when the missiles struck and was diagnosed with TCC.
“He struggled, you know, like all of us, like me,” said Kvasager, who served with Quitugua.
Ksavager used to help lead armed drone operations as part of the unit, but today the 31-year-old struggles with vision and hearing and suffers from headaches. constant head and memory loss. He says he can’t do his job anymore.
After CBS News brought the cases to the attention of the Pentagon, a spokesperson said the Army Human Resources Command would review soldiers’ Purple Heart submissions. And more than two dozen members of Congress led by Representative Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California, have called on the Secretary of the Army to “quickly” award the Purple Heart to soldiers injured in the missile attack, citing the CBS News survey.
With the latest additions, the military has now recognized 68 soldiers injured in the attack with Purple Hearts, including soldiers from other units who were on the base.
The award has lifetime benefits, including priority medical care at veterans hospitals, home loan benefits, and federal hiring preferences. Some states offer tuition waivers for Purple Heart recipients for undergraduate and postgraduate university programs.
The military spokesperson said the Human Resources Command will continue to review Purple Heart’s appointments for 11 additional soldiers at the base.
Mike Pridgeon also received the award on Tuesday. In an interview last month, he said he suffered from constant headaches, memory loss and vision problems. He said that by denying him and others the award, the military sent a message to wounded soldiers that their sacrifice was “insignificant” and “not worth considering. “.
“It’s not something you ever want to win,” he said. “But it’s something my son can see to explain why I am the way I am, why I have changed.”