Wounded Warrior: 'I Just Feel Lucky to be Here'
January 8, 2009
For Col. Frederick Heaggans, director of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command Forward, supporting the war fighter is more than a phrase on a bumper sticker or a line in a speech. It is something he has bled for.
Heaggans has been awarded a Purple Heart for injuries he received while deployed to Iraq in 2008.
Heaggans was working with the Iraqi army so they could purchase the equipment and supplies they need to be self-sufficient. He was in his office on Forward Operating Base Phoenix on April 20, 2008 when an enemy rocket exploded within inches of the roof. The force of the airburst knocked him to the ground unconscious while shrapnel peppered the room. He awoke hurt, but feeling very fortunate.
"When I woke up I did a quick body-check for injuries," he said. "I was injured, but luckily I survived it. The shrapnel had shredded my trailer, but managed to miss me."
After being rushed to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, his immediate injuries were treated and he was released. Heaggans was given the option to return home for further treatment and recuperation. His replacement wasn't scheduled to arrive until August, however. Rather than leave his post unmanned, Heaggans decided to stay and finish the remaining five months of his 13-month deployment.
"I was able to get up and move around and do my job," he said. "I wanted to finish my time. I didn't want to leave a void. If I had left (early) then there would have been a void there for months. I could get up, so I didn't consider my injuries severe enough not to go back."
During his regularly scheduled leave, Heaggans underwent further examination and tests while he was home. Doctors found extensive damage to his shoulder and knee from the force of the blast and impact with the floor.
"My injuries were more internal than external. I had a partially torn rotator cuff, tore my bicep tendon and some other small things in my shoulder. In my knee, I tore my ACL," he said.
Nevertheless, he returned to Iraq and served the rest of his deployment. He was awarded a Purple Heart in May for his injuries.
Since returning stateside in September, Heaggans has had surgery on his shoulder. He is still undergoing rehabilitation for the procedure. His knee will require major surgery as well to replace the ligaments once he has recovered fully from the shoulder surgery. He still reports for duty at Redstone where he is helping USASAC with its everyday business of foreign military sales and guiding the command through its base realignment and closure move from Fort Belvoir, Va.
Ever humble, Heaggans is a little embarrassed by the fuss being made over his injuries and deployment.
"It's a very humbling experience," he said. "I feel lucky to have survived and I remember the people who didn't."
After 24 years in the green suit, Heaggans has seen his name added to Army Materiel Command's Purple Heart and Defense of Freedom Medal display located at AMC headquarters at Fort Belvoir. A brass plaque with his name is being added to the granite pillars recognizing AMC personnel for their personal sacrifices and commitment. The display was unveiled in 2007 on the sixth anniversary of 9/11.
Heaggans is the 13th name added to the display, which will be moved with the organizational flag once the BRAC move is completed.
"I just feel lucky to be here and to be able to go on with the mission," he said.