Paratroopers who were deployed to Afghanistan last year to earlier this year and were wounded or helped save the lives of others received Purple Hearts and valor awards Friday.
The paratroopers are part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and were on the brigade’s deployment between July 2019 to April this year.
Those who received the Purple Heart — the nation’s oldest award for those wounded in combat — included Staff Sgt. Patrick Barnes, Sgt. Thomas Jerels, Sgt. Thomas J. Kargas, Spc. Gavin Wesley, Spc. Marcus Williams — all part of the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Paratroopers receiving the Army Commendation with valor award for helping save the lives of others included Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Imme and Staff Sgt. Christopher Collins, with the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment; and Staff Sgt. Cutberto Ruiz and Spc. Dominic Green, with the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Maj. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, presented the awards and remembered being deployed to Afghanistan at the same time with a different unit that worked with the paratroopers.
“I will tell you their efforts absolutely were the fruit of truly closing down our longest war, and closing it down the right way,” Donahue said of the lives lost and sacrifices made during the deployment.
For Barnes, who is originally from Salt Lake City, it was his first deployment.
He sustained a traumatic brain injury after a July 12, 2019, rocket-propelled grenade attack on a mountain convoy and another Oct. 6, 2019, attack during a ground assault operation.
Barnes said paratroopers were driving through the Wardak Province for a tactical ground movement during the first attack.
“It just hit an open hatch that we had inside the truck and rendered two people inside the truck unconscious, and we just had to kind of fight our way out of the situation,” he said.
During the second attack, he said he was with Jerels and remembers they were checking to make sure others had food, water and a way to sleep.
“As soon as I jumped into their truck the enemy just came,” he said.
Each received medical treatment for about two to three weeks in Bagram and were able to remain in Afghanistan for the duration of the deployment.
“We got to kind of start working back into things, so luckily we didn’t have to leave our platoon,” said Barnes, who was his platoon’s leader.
Kargas received a traumatic brain injury, after a Dec. 11, 2019 vehicle-borne roadside bomb explosion in Bagram.
Wesley had traumatic brain injuries from an Oct. 7, 2019, roadside bomb struck his vehicle in the Ghazni Province.
Williams also had a traumatic brain injury from a Dec. 5, 2019, roadside bomb struck his vehicle during a ground defense area patrol in the Herat Province.
Imme and Collins received awards for a July 29, 2019, enemy attack for exposing themselves to suppress enemy fire, allow their platoon to move and defeat the threat, which saved the lives of coalition forces.
Ruiz received his award, after he was pinned down from three separate enemy fighting positions Sept. 16, 2019.
He led American and partner forces 200 meters to “eliminate the enemy,” while exposing himself to enemy fire and suppressing enemy fire when his team recovered three casualties.
Green’s patrol was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade and enemy fire Sept. 13, 2019.
After being struck, he recovered and helped engage the enemy, which allowed the medical evacuation of five wounded personnel, including Sgt. David Scudder, who received his Purple Heart last week.
Donahue said the paratroopers' efforts during the deployment helped lead to a cease-fire and inter-Afghan negotiations.
“Like anything associated with Afghanistan or any war, nothing is ever easy when it comes to that, but all of you have done remarkable stuff,” he told the paratroopers Friday.
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3528.
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