U.S. troopers injured by Iranian ballistic missiles denied the Purple Coronary heart award

Platoon Sergeant Daine Kvasager was a part of a skeleton crew left to defend the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on January 8, 2020. Days earlier, the U.S. had killed the highly effective Iranian Basic Quasem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds navy pressure and the person behind lethal assaults on American bases — however the ballistic missile assault in response can be the largest in opposition to American forces in historical past. 

Iran leveled the bottom with 11 warheads, every weighing 1,600 kilos. 

“It rocked all the things,” mentioned Kvasager, who advised CBS Information he was knocked over by a shockwave after one of many missiles hit about 150 toes from him. “The entire earth shook.”

Platoon Sergeant Daine Kvasager
Platoon Sergeant Daine Kvasager

Courtesy Daine Kvasager

Miraculously, nobody was killed. However Kvasager and members of his crew, known as Taskforce Scarecrow, suffered traumatic mind accidents, or TBIs.

He used to assist run armed drone operations as a part of the unit, however the now 31-year-old struggles with imaginative and prescient and listening to issues and suffers from fixed complications and reminiscence loss. He says he can now not do his job.

“The particular person I used to be previous to a traumatic mind damage, he is gone,” Kvasager mentioned. “There’s components that stay. The items are all nonetheless there, simply — yeah, he is not coming again.”

A CBS Information investigation discovered Kvasager is one in all dozens of troopers injured within the assault who haven’t been acknowledged with the Purple Coronary heart and who’ve been denied the medical advantages that include it, regardless of showing to qualify. 

Kvasager’s superior officer Captain Geoffrey Hansen, 32, helped lead Taskforce Scarecrow and advised CBS Information the troopers met the navy’s eligibility requirement for the award.

In an October 6 letter obtained by CBS Information, their commander, Colonel Gregory Repair, urged the Military’s command that handles awards to reverse course and “assessment and/or rethink the Purple Coronary heart award packages for all Troopers injured at Al-Asad airbase on January 8, 2020 who haven’t acquired the Purple Coronary heart on account of this assault.”

“All through my entire navy profession, I used to be all the time advised ‘we care for troopers above all else’,” mentioned Hansen, who just lately was honorably discharged from the navy and is attending enterprise college. “It shocks me that we have now failed to do this on this scenario.”

After CBS Information contacted the Division of Protection, an Military spokesperson confirmed the award packets are actually being reconsidered by the Military’s Human Assets Command, or HRC.

“HRC will consider every award nomination, to incorporate posthumous submissions, expeditiously and on their particular person benefit in accordance with Military laws,” the spokesperson mentioned in an announcement.

One of many submissions is for 22-year-old Jason Quitugua, who took his personal life final month. Quitugua, who was promoted to sergeant posthumously, defended the bottom when the missiles struck and was identified with a TBI.

“He struggled, you realize, like all of us are, like I’m,” mentioned Kvasager, who served with Quitugua. “It is simply heartbreaking.”

Jason Quitugua
Jason Quitugua, who was injured in a 2020 Iranian assault on Al Asad Air Base, took his personal life in 2021.

Politics at play?

Present and former troopers from Taskforce Scarecrow query whether or not politics performed a task within the Military’s failure to award the Purple Coronary heart to troopers who they are saying certified for it.

Shortly after the assault, Repair submitted 56 troopers identified with TBIs for the Purple Coronary heart, however solely 23 have been acknowledged with the award. Hansen mentioned all of them ought to have acquired the award. He mentioned all of them met the eligibility necessities set out in Military laws as a result of the assault was launched by a hostile international pressure and precipitated “persistent … impaired mind features for a interval better than 48 hours from the time of the concussive incident.” 

In an announcement issued in Might 2020, the Division of Protection mentioned the ultimate choice to approve Purple Hearts was made by Lieutenant Basic Pat White, the three-star common who oversaw the whole theatre.

Within the assertion, the division wrote, “it is very important be aware {that a} Traumatic Mind Damage (TBI) prognosis doesn’t routinely qualify a Service Member for the Purple Coronary heart” and that the “course of was designed to be a good and neutral continuing that evaluated every case in accordance with relevant laws.”

Hansen and different troopers who survived the assault advised CBS Information they consider an arbitrary commonplace was utilized — the troopers who have been medically evacuated from Iraq acquired the award, however the ones who stayed behind to assist the mission weren’t. He mentioned that is not the way it’s speculated to work.

“The Military regulation that explains the factors for a Purple Coronary heart very clearly says it isn’t up for judgment,” mentioned Hansen, who was turned down for the award. “It is an entitlement and it is one thing that’s earned by damage.”

After bringing their considerations up the chain of command, Hansen mentioned he and Repair have been advised to cease asking concerning the troopers who didn’t obtain the Purple Coronary heart.

“The messaging I used to be getting was simply the political scenario wasn’t going to assist extra approvals,” Hansen mentioned.

Within the October 6 letter, Repair wrote, “I used to be additionally directed to not inquire concerning the remaining awards or resubmit these awards.”

The troopers CBS spoke with mentioned after the assault, there was strain to downplay the rising accidents to keep away from an extra escalation with Iran and keep away from undercutting former President Trump.

Every week after the assault, Trump was requested concerning the troopers’ accidents at a press convention. He mentioned he “heard they’d complications” and “I can report it isn’t very critical.”

Hansen mentioned these feedback indicated to him that the administration needed to maintain the casualty numbers low.

“Purple Hearts are a sign of a casualty,” he mentioned.

In response to a CBS Information inquiry, a navy spokesman mentioned a assessment board backed by medical professionals made a advice to White in every case, and instances underwent “rigorous assessment.” The spokesman mentioned the analysis is an apolitical course of, and they aren’t conscious of any path given to troopers to downplay their accidents or to commanders to not inquire or resubmit the remaining Purple Coronary heart awards.

White mentioned these suggestions have been reviewed by a board of senior leaders earlier than the ultimate choice, and requirements have been utilized uniformly.

“Our laws additionally permit for a course of wherein commanders can request reconsideration of such standards-based award selections, which we train regularly,” White mentioned.

Hansen and different troopers mentioned they’re talking outdoors the chain of command as “an absolute final step” and to assist troopers who could not have the ability to communicate up, because of their extra junior positions.

“It kills me to be on the information speaking about this,” Hansen mentioned. “There are such a lot of processes in place that I’d assume that might repair this. And it simply looks as if nobody has that urge for food to do it.”

A story of two troopers

Mike Pridgeon, 35, and Hailey Webster, 26, each suffered TBIs within the assault. They every sheltered in bunkers meant to defend in opposition to small explosives, not ballistic missiles the scale of a truck.

Al Asad Air Base
Al Asad Air Base within the wake of a 2020 assault by Iran.

Courtesy Daine Kvasager

An intelligence officer, Webster advised CBS Information it appears like her mind “has short-circuited” and she or he has been pressured to medically retire from the military because of her accidents.

“I can do issues for brief spurts,” Webster mentioned, whose job entailed poring over intelligence for as much as 12 hours a day. “My mind nonetheless works but it surely would not have any stamina, and it very regularly simply stops working. And so, it’s totally troublesome to do your job — and then you definitely add any stress on high of it, and it makes it nearly inconceivable.”

Pridgeon continues to be within the navy, however mentioned he suffers from fixed complications, reminiscence loss and imaginative and prescient points.

“My spouse will say I was so articulate, however now I am nearly like a stroke affected person,” Pridgeon mentioned.

Each Pridgeon and Webster lived by way of the identical ballistic missile assault, however solely Webster, who was medically evacuated, acquired the Purple Coronary heart. She mentioned she is talking out as a result of she feels responsible that she acquired the award, whereas fellow service members who suffered the identical accidents didn’t.

“They got here again, and I noticed them and the way a lot ache they have been in,” Webster mentioned. “It kills me to see them and never have that recognition.”

The Purple Coronary heart carries lifetime advantages, together with precedence medical care at Veterans Affairs hospitals, residence mortgage advantages, and preferences for federal hiring. Some states supply Purple Coronary heart recipients tuition waivers for undergraduate and postgraduate college packages.

“There’s been so many occasions going by way of the retirement course of that they mentioned, ‘Oh, you will have a Purple Coronary heart? Oh, that makes this simple,'” Webster mentioned. “It simply proves you have been injured in fight by enemy motion.”

Pridgeon mentioned for him and others, it is private, including the military has despatched a message to injured troopers that their sacrifice was “insignificant” and “not value consideration.”

“It isn’t one thing you ever need to earn,” he mentioned. “However it’s one thing that my son can see as to why I’m the best way I’m, why I modified.”

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