A retired Wisconsin Army National Guardsman received a long-awaited Purple Heart at a Nov. 7 ceremony in Portage, Wisconsin.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, awarded the medal to Sgt. James Wright, during the ceremony at the Portage National Guard Armory for injuries sustained in combat.
Wright, who served multiple stints with Company B, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, before retiring in 2012, deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007 as a volunteer with the Illinois Army National Guard’s Company A, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry. During that deployment, Wright, a MK-19 gunner on a scout vehicle, and his unit were conducting a convoy security mission. As the convoy approached a checkpoint, an improvised explosive device detonated, Wright said.
The unit immediately established a security perimeter while crews prepped the destroyed vehicle for recovery. Once they received a replacement vehicle, the unit continued on with its mission, but Wright left the scene with a concussion and injuries to his back and knee. He still suffers from severe headaches and memory loss as a result of the traumatic brain injury he sustained in the blast that day.
“It’s not really an award that you want to receive, but of course you’re honored to receive it,” Wright said of receiving the Purple Heart.
Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted advisor said the Purple Heart is one of the most significant decorations the military can award.
“It is such a significant award and a very elite group of Soldiers that wear that Purple Heart,” he said following the Nov. 7 ceremony.
Shields said the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s leadership remained in constant pursuit of the required documentation over the years for Wright to receive the award so he could be properly recognized.
“And the family’s contribution is significant as well, because the Soldier is never the same when they come back from an injury like that,” Shields said. “But I’m just so happy to finally see that come to closure today.”
Dunbar said it is vitally important to ensure America’s warriors are properly recognized for putting their lives on the line for their country.
In 2007, the Army had not yet changed the criteria for the Purple Heart to include the types of injuries Wright suffered on his deployment. That fact coupled with Wright’s service with National Guard units from multiple states created a delay in processing the award. However, once the Wisconsin National Guard became aware of Wright’s situation, the organization never relented in seeking to ensure he received the award.
“Soldiers like Sgt. Wright should be properly recognized for their courage and bravery,” Dunbar said. “This award is long overdue, and we salute you and the countless other American service members who have willingly put on the uniform and sacrificed so much for our country.”
Wright said that while the Purple Heart means a lot to him on a personal level, he saw it as a symbol for other service members in similar situations.
“It’s not a symbol of what happened to me,” he said. “It’s more a symbol of what everybody who has come home and had issues.”
“I don’t look at it as about me, it’s more about people who have come home and maybe haven’t gotten any recognition for something that has happened to them,” he added. “There’s a lot of prerequisites to getting a Purple Heart, and PTSD is not one, believe it or not. I know some people who have got PTSD very bad, and I think this is kind of for them.”
Wright has been married to his wife Tracy for 22 years. The couple have two children, and though the recovery process has been lengthy and at times challenging for their family, watching her husband receive the Purple Heart was significant.
“There’s not enough words to it," she said when asked what it meant to see her husband recognized. “I remember getting that phone call, and it was the wrong time of the day. Every second just means the world to me. I’m proud of him. He’s a good man. That’s for sure.”
Despite the challenges that he faces as the result of his injuries in Iraq, Wright said he would do it all over again. The camaraderie of the military, he said, cannot be replicated in any other profession.
“Where else are you going to get the schooling that you can get through the military?” he said. “Where else are you going to get help with college, especially nowadays? The camaraderie is just unbelievable. It’s bar none.”
Because of his belief in the military, had he not retired for medical reasons, he would have liked to stay in even longer, he said.
Wright enlisted in the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 1986 with B Company and served with the unit until 1990 before a break in service. In 2006, he re-enlisted into the Illinois Army National Guard and deployed a year later before transferring back to the Wisconsin Army National Guard in 2009.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Ard contributed to this report.