FORT McCOY, Wis. - Six years after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier Spc. Brandon L. Pszanka was awarded the Purple Heart Medal during an Oct. 16 ceremony.
“I am so grateful to be standing here today, still in uniform, to receive this very prestigious award,” Pszanka said.
Brig. Gen. Mark E. Anderson, Wisconsin’s assistant adjutant general for Army, presented the medal to Pszanka, who was joined by his friends, family, the entire 641st Troop Command Battalion, and several distinguished guests including U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble.
Pszanka, a motor transport operator with the 273rd Engineer Company, 641st Troop Command Battalion, 64th Troop Command, enlisted in the Wisconsin Army National Guard in December 2007 and deployed in 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 724th Engineer Battalion, augmenting the Puerto Rico National Guard’s 1013th Engineer Company.
Pszanka was wounded on Sept. 19, 2010 while conducting route clearance when an improvised explosive device detonated near the driver’s side door of the Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicle he was operating. Pszanka suffered significant injuries to his lower body, a traumatic brain injury and recurring post-traumatic stress as a result of the blasts. He received treatment in Germany and later returned to the United States for further treatment and recovery.
Capt. Jared Siverling, Pszanka’s platoon leader during the deployment and current 273rd commander, spoke to Pszanka’s good character and positive influence on the platoon.
“He has the biggest heart of any Soldier I have ever known,” Siverling said. “He is genuine, kind and enthusiastic. His positive demeanor kept morale high in rough moments.”
Billie Jo Smith, Pszanka’s mother, echoed these sentiments.
“He is caring, loving and he loves to help people,” Smith said. “He always gives 100 percent.”
Prior to the injury that cut short his deployment, Pszanka served on 61 route clearance missions, totaling 337 hours and 25 minutes clearing 5,260 kilometers of Iraqi routes.
Siverling recalled the moments following the attack, as they were bringing the Soldier the unit had nicknamed “Tasmanian Devil” back to base to be transported for medical treatment.
“Even though we knew his days of driving an MRAP on Iraqi roads were probably done, he was still in high spirits,” Siverling said. “At one point, he mentioned rather casually that he was getting a little tired of route clearance. We were laughing with him because the route we were traversing that night, Route Vanessa, has the same name as my wife, and I reminded him that if you found trouble with Vanessa, pain was sure to follow. Even after such a traumatic event, there was still humor and a reason to laugh.”
During his remarks, Ribble said the prestige that accompanies the Purple Heart Medal is bittersweet and an honor that many do not want to see any Soldier have to carry.
“I think in a ceremony like this, there’s nothing more important than highlighting the importance of a value,” Ribble said, noting that three such values are emblazoned on our currency. “Our service men and women have done two things with those values — they’ve defended them and, more importantly in my opinion, they demonstrated those values abroad.”
Anderson explained the importance of the Purple Heart medal.
“This is one award you don’t try to earn, because the only way to earn it is to bleed on the battlefield,” he said.
“Thank you for your love and support to allow him to continue to serve in uniform,” Anderson continued. “It goes without saying that what he has been able to achieve, as a man and as a Soldier, is a direct reflection of the support you have provided.”
Pszanka agreed, adding how much it meant to finally receive the Purple Heart.
“I hope that we continue to strive to give the proper recognition to all service members,” he said.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard honors all Purple Heart Medal recipients annually Aug. 7.
112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment Spc. Zachary Tomesh contributed to this story.