News>Feature - Shaw Airmen receive Purple Hearts for combat wounds
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Andrew Long, 20th Security Forces Squadron, was awarded a Purple Heart for combat wounds suffered during his last deployment. Long was assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron tactical security element at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. During a mission, Long's convoy struck an Improvised Explosive Device. The incident left Long with Traumatic Brain Injury and other wounds. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Kenny Holston/Released)
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Adam Bohl, 20th Security Forces Squadron, was awarded a Purple Heart for combat wounds suffered during his last deployment. Bohl was assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron tactical security element at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. During a mission, Bohl's convoy struck an Improvised Explosive Device. The incident left Bohl with Traumatic Brain Injury and other wounds. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman Kenny Holston/Released)
by Senior Airman Kenny Holston
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
2/8/2012 - SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Ceremonies, medals and praise were the last thing on their minds, as they completed combat skills training at Fort Dix, N.J., and loaded a plane that would take them to the Taliban infested battlefields of Afghanistan.
Convoy training had become repetitious, but nothing would ever prepare them for the reality of being hit by an improvised explosive device.
Medals weren't even a distant thought as they arrived at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, to embed with the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron tactical security element.
Senior Airman Adam Bohl and Airman 1st Class Andrew Long, both assigned to the 20th Security Forces Squadron here, received Purple Hearts after suffering wounds sustained during combat.
The two Airmen had been assigned to the same deployment tasking, attended the same combat courses, and trained on the same weapons, but only time would reveal just how closely their experiences would parallel each other.
According to the Department of Defense, the Purple Heart is a medal awarded to military members who have been wounded during combat by an enemy of the United States.
"Being awarded medals and decorations never entered my mind," said Bohl, a 23 year old St. Cloud, Fla. native. "That's not what I went to Afghanistan for. I went to do my job just like everyone else in my unit."
With the core of their mission consisting of convoys and foot patrols through Afghan villages, Bohl and Long knew they would be spending most of their tour in a dangerous territory, Long said.
"We spent at least five to six days a week outside the wire," said Long a 22 year old Eugene, Ore. native. "We would convoy with Office of Special Investigation agents to Afghan villages and Forward Operating Bases as their security team. We provided cover and security for them while they followed up with leads and spoke to village natives to gather intelligence."
Being outside the wire so often definitely increased the risk factor, Long explained.
After sitting in a mission brief before leaving Bagram for a routine convoy, Bohl mounted his 50-caliber machine gun on top of his assigned vehicle and took his place in the gunner's tort, he said. His team left the airfield and headed toward Forward Operating Base Marales Frasier, a French FOB about two hours from Bagram.
"I don't remember much about the convoy," Bohl continued. "I just remember turning a corner as we passed through Shoki village and then bang, there was a loud explosion, and it was lights out for me."
Bohl's truck had struck an Improvised Explosive Device, which caused him to hit his head and lose consciousness for five to eight minutes, Bohl said.
He had only been in Afghanistan for two weeks.
"We had been in country for such a short amount of time at that point," Bohl continued. "We still had 5 and a half months to go, and I couldn't help but ask myself does it get better or worse from here?"
After returning to Bagram, Bohl was ordered to see a doctor to find out the severity of his injuries.
He was diagnosed with a concussion and a Traumatic Brain Injury.
The next day while Bohl recovered, he was informed that his unit was hit again along the same route.
It would be this same path that Airman Long's vehicle would strike an IED, five months after Bohl suffered his injuries.
"We were always excited to go out to Marales Frasier because we would get to eat pizza and mingle with the French," Long explained. "This time we were held over at the FOB while we waited for IEDs to be cleared just outside of Bagram.
Long's unit was finally given the okay to move out, he said. While passing through Shoki village, they were alert because of the high threat level, but as they moved through, their truck was hit.
"I remember everything turning white and then nothing but darkness," Long said. "When I came to I was seeing spots and members of my team where shouting, asking if I was ok. I said I was good and immediately regained control of my weapon and started scanning my sectors to ensure we weren't being ambushed."
It was at this moment Long began to realize the repetition and muscle memory of his combat skills training taking over, he said.
But the situation did not improve from there.
A man wheedling an Ak-47 rushed to set up on higher grounds to take aim at the crippled convoy, Long exclaimed. The Security Forces Airman neutralized the enemy and allowed his unit enough time to set up towing operations for their crippled truck, so they could get out of there.
Like Bohl, Long's commander sent him to see a doctor after returning to Bagram where he was diagnosed with a severely sprained elbow, shattered glass in his neck, and a Traumatic Brain Injury.
As they recovered from their injuries each of the Airmen were afforded the option to receive further treatment at Landstul Regional Medical Center, Germany but decided not to in order to stay with their unit, explained Long.
"I didn't want that mission to be my last memory of our efforts in Afghanistan," said Long.
After returning to Shaw, Bohl and Long were commended by their peers and leadership for their bravery, diligence and stellar performance during their time in Afghanistan, Bohl said.
"When we got back to Shaw our peers heckled us a little bit for being awarded our medals," said Bohl "but everyone supported us and were proud of the job we did."
While the two young SFS Airmen didn't go to war seeking medals and awards they do realize the weight and honor that a Purple Heart carries, Long explained.
"We are honored to be among those who proudly wear the distinguished medal," he said.
2/16/2012 2:05:36 AM ET worked with Andrew just after he got out of High SchoolGood Kid . Was rooting for him when He joined the Air Force He looked good in the Uniform when He came back home on leave .He Makes us Veterans PROUD .