Three-time Purple Heart awardee still serving with pride
November 6, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Some may think that it would be tough to put a positive spin on being shot three times in four months, but to Staff Sgt. Adam W. Ellsworth, it means that he did his job.
An infantryman, currently assigned to 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, as section leader in Company D, Ellsworth has deployed overseas three times in his 13-year career. He deployed once to the Balkans on a peacekeeping mission in 2002 and twice to Iraq, in 2004 and again in 2006.
Ellsworth left the last deployment with three Purple Hearts.
The first injury came Jan. 22, 2007, when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle. He was knocked unconscious by the blow and later had to get glass removed from his eye. When asked about the incident, he simply said, "RPGs hurt."
On May 3, 2007, he was shot through his right bicep on a counter-improvised explosive device mission. After two weeks recovery time, Ellsworth was struck again on his second mission out. This time, he was shot right above the knuckle on the ring finger of his left hand. Because of the injury, he has limited movement in his hand and now has to wear his wedding ring on his right hand.
"They just couldn't keep me inside the wire," said Ellsworth, originally from Culpepper, Va. "I came back from that deployment with the satisfaction that none of my guys got hurt. I believe you have to lead from the front.
Hopefully, their parents can look at it as even though their section leader got shot all the time, their kids didn't. Maybe their sons are still here because of me. I'm still here, too. I have scars, still carry shrapnel in my hand and shoulder and my personality has changed a bit, but everyone made it home."
Ellsworth, now 32, joined the Army at the age of 20. He said he had a decent job working nights that enabled him to pay for school and his apartment. One day, he decided he needed something more.
"I just woke up one morning thinking 'this sucks.' I felt like there was something more I should be doing. Whether it was divine intervention or whatever, I joined the Army and realized this was where I needed to be," he said.
When it came to deciding what his military occupational specialty was going to be, he said there was nothing to decide.
"When I was sitting with my recruiter going over my options, as soon as he said infantry, I knew that was it," said Ellsworth. "It's just a good fit for me. I don't know if it's because I played Army as a kid or what."
At one point he went to school to change his specialty to the communications field, but quickly realized it wasn't for him and went back to what he knew and loved - the infantry.
"Not to disrespect any other MOS, but to me, the infantry represents a higher standard of discipline. It has to. Leading Soldiers as an 11 Bravo, their lives are all in your hands. Period. Our entire job is about getting the bad guys and not letting them get us," he said.
Ellsworth added that he is proud to be a member of the 1st Bn., 505th PIR.
"There is truly a sense of camaraderie here. Everyone here cares about the guy standing on their left and on their right. It's a great battalion and a great team. I haven't seen one NCO (noncommissioned officer) that doesn't care about the Soldiers here," he said.
He saw the discipline and teamwork his unit is capable of firsthand.
"When I got hit, each of those three different times, the Soldiers still did what they had to do. The mission still happened, and they got the job done. It's a good thing to see," said Ellsworth.
The seasoned NCO said seeing his Soldiers step up and become leaders themselves is one of the most rewarding things about being in the Army.
"Seeing a 19-year-old kid go through the ranks and become a leader makes me feel good," he said. "I know I'll eventually retire and leave the Army, but seeing these Soldiers grow and take charge lets me know that I'll be leaving the unit, the mission and the Army in good hands. I don't know if a lot of people think of it like that, but I do."
As members of the 3rd BCT continue returning from their latest deployment to Iraq, Ellsworth reflected on how hard it was on him as a Soldier and an infantryman to sit this one out.
"This is my first time not deploying with my unit and it's hard," he said. "The common sense part of you says you shouldn't want to go over there; you got shot three times before; and people are trying to kill you. The rest of me is thinking, it's my job, those are my fellow Soldiers and it is where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing."
Ellsworth said even though he wasn't with them this time, he was with them in spirit.
"I take pride in the fact that I did have an opportunity to do it and that I probably will again. As I watch the guys come back, I know they are ready to be home and it's really good to see them. They did a good job. Even though they were hundreds of miles away, I thought about them and what they were doing everyday," said Ellsworth.