Five NH Guardsmen who suffered brain injuries awarded Purple Hearts

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From left, Purple Heart recipients Chief Warrant Officer III Jonathan Shallow, Sgt. Jackson McWade, Capt. Brendan Meehan, Specialist Sarah Doiron and Specialist Caio Campos each suffered traumatic brain injuries at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq from a tactical missile strike from Iran on Jan. 8. Photo/Ryan Lessard

CONCORD, NHFive soldiers from the New Hampshire Army National Guard were awarded the Purple Heart during a ceremony at the Concord Army Aviation Support Facility Sunday afternoon.

Each suffered traumatic brain injuries from being sheltered in the shockwave radius of at least one of a handful of Iranian missiles that struck the Al Asad Airbase in Iraq on Jan. 8. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran launched a theater ballistic missile (TBM) barrage of 11 missiles. At least five TBMs landed direct hits on the facility.

“I don’t really know how to describe it,” Specialist Sarah Doiron told a Manchester Ink Link reporter. “Everything was filled with dust and debris and the sound just knocked you off your feet.”

Six members of C Company of the 3-238th MEDEVAC were injured in the blast. All but their commanding officer, Capt. Brendan Meehan, were cloistered inside a bunker after intel of the missile attack reached the command staff of the medical evacuation airstrip the night before.

Meehan stayed in the operations room to receive intel, keep others informed and make decisions about what to do with vehicles and equipment on the base. He heard the first blast about 500 yards away from the part of the base that was sheltering soldiers, then another blast hit only 100 yards away, causing a 500-yard shockwave that blew shrapnel and debris over a 500-yard radius.

“The blast sent me 50 feet,” Meehan said.

Moments before, Doiron said she and her fellow soldiers in the bunker were getting restless and began to believe the warning was a false alarm, after waiting for about two to three hours. They started to debate whether they should leave the shelter when the blast hit.

“We were very close to just saying, ‘If they call it, then we’ll come back,’” Doiron said.

The attack took place over a span of a few hours. Alongside Doiron, Chief Warrant Officer III Jonathan Shallow, Sgt. Jackson McWade, Sgt. Jacob Baughman and Specialist Caio Campos suffered traumatic brain injuries inside the shelter.

Doiron said the soldiers leaned on each other in the aftermath of the attack, and the experience bonded them together.

Shortly after, most of them resumed their duties on Al Asad and finished their deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Maj. Gen. David Mikolaities (center) pinned a Purple Heart on the collars of, from left, Specialist Caio Campos, Specialist Sarah Doiron, Sgt. Jackson McWade and Chief Warrant Officer III Jonathan Shallow. Photo/Ryan Lessard

Meehan was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to recover from his injuries. While there, he was awarded the Purple Heart by the U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston.

On Sunday, Maj. Gen. David Mikolaities pinned the Purple Heart on Doiron, Shallow, McWade and Campos. Baughman was awarded the medal but could not attend the ceremony.

“You demonstrated leadership and teamwork. You never abandoned your mission before, during and after the strikes,” Mikolaites said in his speech.

All six have recovered from their injuries and are back on duty. Doiron said she is working a federal technical job in Concord until May 7, after which she said she intends to return to her career as an EMT.

Meehan, who is a pilot as well, has recently returned to flight status. 

“It’s remarkable that he’s flying again,” NH National Guard Spokesman Col. Gregory Heilshorn said.

During the ceremony, Congresswoman Anne Kuster gave remarks acknowledging the soldiers’ sacrifices, and recalled the services of her father Malcom McLane who flew in the Battle of the Bulge and was a prisoner of war.

“All five of you have done our nation proud,” Kuster said.

Congressman Chris Pappas was also in attendance, and called the injuries sustained during the defense of their country a “solemn distinction.” He also said it was important to recognize the sacrifices of the guardsmen’s families.

Aides to Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan also delivered written remarks thanking the soldiers for their service and sacrifice.

Soldiers hug and congratulate each other immediately following the Purple Heart ceremony. Photo/Ryan Lessard

 

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ryan-lessard

Ryan Lessard

Ryan Lessard is a freelance reporter.